Saturday, April 29, 2006

Can't Help But Wonder

Today was not an indoor kind of day. For any of you who know Northeast Ohio, you know that the warm, sunny days we have in spring are what you might call, "numbered." Nonetheless, when I wasn't outside chasing after my kids or strolling along the creek -- where we interrupted Deer Napping Hour as almost a dozen of them, miffed, sprang up and trotted away -- I was loading the contents of my musical life onto my PC.

It's been an interesting journey, to pull together bits and pieces of my favorites and load them into one place. I have no fewere than 14 REM recordings, plus one documentary thanks to "x"'s sis, and one bluegrass tribute album, Pickin' On REM, thanks to Shannon. I've loaded everything from three Dave Matthews albums to the Dry Branch Fire Squad.

And that's not even touching the classical.

On and off over the last few days, I've considered whether, or at what point, I should "get back in the game" -- yes, you know, the dating thing. I'm not sure how to re-enter that particular atmosphere, and I'm not even sure I want to. I'm not unused to being vulnerable or afraid things will go wrong. Just starting from scratch seems like a lot of work when I'm so happy the way things are. How do you know when it's time?

Right now while it loads I'm enjoying a recording by a singer I love, Nanci Griffith. It's called Other Voices/Other Rooms and features her unique smooth voice on songs written or performed by folk steward like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and others less well known. One well-loved character on the lineup is Tom Paxton, who still makes the rounds. This terrific tune sums up perfectly my worldview at the moment.

Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound
Words and Music by Tom Paxton

It's a long and dusty road,
It's a hot and a heavy load and the folks I meet ain't always kind.
Some are bad and some are good.
Some have done the best they could.
Some have tried to ease my troubl in mind.

And I can't help but wonder
where I'm bound, where I'm bound.
Can't help but wonder where I'm bound.

I have wandered through this land just a-doin' the best I can,
Tryin' to find what I was meant to do.
And the people that I see look as worried as can be
And it looks like they are wonderin' too.

(To Chorus)
Oh, I had a little girl one time, she had lips like sherry wine
And she loved me till my head went plumb insane.
But I was too blind to see she was driftin' away from me
And my good gal went off on the morning train.

(To Chorus)
And I had a buddy back home but he started out to roam
And I hear he's out by 'Frisco Bay.
And sometimes when I've had a few, his old voice comes singin' through
And I'm goin' out to see him some old day.

(To Chorus)
If you see me passing by
And you sit and you wonder why,
And you wish that you were a rambler too;
Nail your shoes to the kitchen floor, lace 'em up and bar the door,
Thank your stars for the roof that's over you.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Girl Friday #12: Fiddle Mama

As I've said before on this blog, I have always, since I can remember, been a fan of Celtic music, and one of the great pleasures of my adult life has been the exposure to many talented Irish musicians and wonderful traditional and contemporary Irish music. My friend Fearless has been instrumental in introducing me to a number of musicians. The fabulous Liz Carroll is one of them.

Fearless describes Liz as something of an unsuspecting fiddle master.
Fearless writes:

Liz Carroll is really a Midwestern soccer mom, until she picks up that fiddle, at which point she sort of channels the ghost of Jimi Hendrix or something. Perhaps the most moving song that they played at Chicago was an aire that Liz wrote called the "Song of the First Generation." it's about people like Liz who are the first generation of children born here to Irish immigrants, like her folks...Don't forget to mention that Liz won the All-Ireland fiddle championship the year that she turned 18

Ok, Fearless. I didn't. I'm also laughing and thinking about that story that she told about the "Vornado" fan. Hers is a sense of humor after my own cynical, proletariat heart.

I had another great pleasure back in October of meeting up with Fearless to enjoy Liz together with John Doyle. These two Irish favorites set Cleveland's Beachland Tavern on its head and certainly turned it green that night.

It is impossible, really, to listen to either of these extraordinary performers and not be carried away by the sounds that they evoke from their instruments. John also has a voice that beckons, reminding the listener of balladeers of old. As a duo, they are more than dynamic. They are a force to be reckoned with, playing in perfect alignment with each other, bringing an ancient music very much alive with all the spice of present day.

I dare you to give Liz Carroll a listen without tapping your feet or nodding your head. In fact, I double dare ya. If you're not convinced, I'll meet you the next time she comes through, buy you a plate of bangers and rashers and a Smithwick's, and treat you to one of the best music nights of your life.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Boss Goes Trad

Today I say thanks for Bruce Springsteen. His new release, We Shall Overcome, is a bit of inspiration and validation for us corny trad fans.

On his latest effort, The Boss offers up some of the most loved and inspiring songs in our nation's history. He modeled his selections on the work of an American folk legend and a musician for whom I have nothing but the deepest reverence and admiration, Pete Seeger. I can think of no more touching and appropriate nod from a rock and roll icon to a guardian of America’s folk music heritage.

I have never bought a Bruce Springsteen album although “x” was a big fan so I was exposed to a great deal of his work. He is pure raw energy and talent, and his honest and straightforward, if slightly off-key singing is quite compelling. While not a genuine fan, I am drawn to this recording for many reasons.

The first is that I’m intrigued by Springsteen’s journey. It appears that, like me, he sort of stumbled across a genre he wasn’t very familiar with but with which, as one of America’s contemporary folk heroes, he could swiftly and deeply identify. He immersed himself in the music and then realizing its value sought a way to share what moves him about it with others. Granted, he’s got a bit of an edge over me where that’s concerned, but I do fully understand the thrill of sharing some new joy.

The next is that it truly is touching to see a star like Springsteen align himself with the work of a musical hero like Pete Seeger. While I haven’t heard Seeger’s reaction to Springsteen’s interpretation, I imagine there to be some degree of admiration and appreciation. Springsteen’s music has always struck me as working-class anthems, which Seeger collected or pioneered in spades. Farmers, factory workers, and other unsung heroes of America'a rural and urban landscapes have been the subject of many a song in the discography of both singers.

Another reason I’m excited about this recording is of course the fact that a figure like Springsteen comes with a ready market of millions of fans, and that means this music is going to be in their hands like lightning. Those fans might hunger for more, and like the “O Brother” phenomenon of a few years back, we have before us an opportunity to bring into the fold a multi-generational audience of considerable size.

The most exciting part is really just an extension of my last point. Springsteen presents a fabulous selection of songs that anyone can learn to sing and play, and he presents them with a wide assortment of instrumentation, including banjo, fiddle, washboard, tuba. This album is a tribute to what folk music is really all about: to paraphrase Woody, Pete, Mike, Joan, and many other troubadours, these songs were made for you and me.

Read or hear the story and interview by NPR’s Melissa Block, and samples from the album, here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cheese Break

Not much time to write tonight, but for all those following the drama, I felt it only fair to announce that "x" was very well behaved at tonight's kindergarden spring program, entitled, "The Cheese Stands Alone." Our darling daughter, dressed in her best pink dress, spent 30 minutes singing with her classmates about a lonely piece of cheese. My son was at home working on homework so there was no buffer (and for those of you who know G.,, no litany of cheese jokes leading up to the program).

We may not agree on many things or see the world much the same way, but where the kids are concerned, I think we're both pretty proud and share in the joy of the accomplishment.

No song tonight! I've been doing paperwork, cleaning, and loading music onto the PC and I'm tuned out, tired, and COLD! I had to break down and turn the heat on again! Back to the music tomorrow with an introduction to a wonderful, and locally hq'd, online music resource for you.

Sleep tight and don't forget to put the chewing gum on the bedpost.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Capo, my Capo

I just had to share that I love my Capo.

When you have a Capo, you can do ANYTHING, so much easier.

Like tonight, when I popped in Ricky Scaggs and Kentucky Thunder's 2004 release, Brand New Strings. It's just chock full of great songs, and one favorite of mine is If I Had It All Again To Do.

But when I got there, and fuddled around, I kept saying, "What the hell key is this in?"

Then, I remembered Captain Capo in my guitar case!

Voila! There I was, finding familiar chords just two frets up the block and strumming right along.

I don't know if that's cheating, because I see professionals pop capos on all the time. So it's not really cheating, is it? Please say no...please. I had so much fun...don't ruin it!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Goin' Where I've Never Gone Before

This afternoon, I had what I would call a mildly disturbing encounter. I was on the way to the post office, because, as you all know, if you want the government to give back to you what is yours, you’re never done with the paperwork. I realized I didn’t have enough cash on me for a priority package, so I stopped at the ATM. When I pulled into the bank parking lot, there was no one behind me. Suddenly, as I am about to pull up to the unit, my ex pulls up behind me, and it starts. I had barely gotten my card out the window to conduct my transaction when I heard, “Are you DONE yet?” And soon thereafter, as I was pushing the buttons, the familiar whiney, “C’mmooooooooon…”

Another adult, and two children, one mine, were in the car with him.

Some might think, and the ex might say, “Oh you just can’t take a joke.” But after nearly 16 years, folks, you know, it just ain’t funny anymore.

To my knowledge, I hadn’t done anything to warrant yet another incident in which he tried to publicly embarrass me. I’m a customer at that bank, I pulled up to use the services at that bank, and was harassed by someone with whom I have a legal arrangement to share parenting responsibilities for at least the next 12 years (give me strength). And yet, I’m pretty sure we could all expect better behavior from a total stranger. It’s just such bad judgement to do things like that, even in fun, in front of children who may not be able to reinterpret that kind of “adult” behavior.

What compels people to behave this way? What on earth about it is remotely necessary? What does it teach young children about how women can and should be treated? And what about the other adult in the car – is this behavior acceptable to this person as well? Well, it’s not acceptable to me or to most people I know. And frankly, I’m really damn tired of it.

My daughter doesn’t know this yet, but she is not going to go down the path of learning and accepting that it’s ok for men to treat women this way. She is going to have the best possible opportunities -- not the acceptable opportunities -- to cultivate her intellect, gain leadership skills, excel academically and in any other area she chooses, and forge a competitive edge. Maybe that will prepare her to repel some of the bozos that will undoubtedly appear in her path.

On top of that, however, I will still have to help both of my children to unlearn bullying as a useful tool for solving problems. It’s not. It is, however, solid evidence of our society’s limited ability to cultivate humanity, even among individuals who would otherwise at least appear to have the intellectual capacity to make better choices.

If I’m a victim of anything, it’s of my own faith in humanity. Seriously. What did I do after this little exchange? I pulled over and said hello. That’s right. Well, now, you know, where I come from, it's what people do. Friendly people, anyway. Eh, maybe where he comes from that's what derision is for. Maybe it's a cultural thing I don't get. Or something.

Anyway, I took a walk in the park, had two calls – one from a good friend about a show he’d seen last night with Liz Carroll and John Doyle in Chicago – and realized that last bit, being cordial, wasn’t necessary. Nothing really would have been lost had I just driven away like normal people do. In fact, that might have been the better choice, even though it would have meant not saying hello to my little boy. If he grows up to like smart girls, he should learn what happens when you treat them badly.

Click and learn.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Girl Friday #11: Freight Train Mama

Pardon that brief GF hiatus while I wished Jim a happy birthday and wished my Earth Day friends some luck this weekend, yadda, yadda. Now, back to Girl Friday.

Bluegrass has its subgenres, one of the foremost being murder ballads, most of which we'll get to right here on GF. . Another favorite subset, for me, oddly enough, are the train songs. From hot instrumentals -- lest we forget the Orange Blossom Special -- to mournful ballads, to spiffy tunes, there are trains to ride in Bluegrass.

I think the energy behind a lot of train songs is what I like about them. The birth of the train as it changed America's landscape is a big deal. Imagine the change in so many things as a result of building the nation's networks of train routes from east to west, north to south and back. The advent of travel by train changed commerce, labor, consumerism, travel, education, demography, public policy, and yes, music too. More than just subject matter for the American folklorist, trains truly broke new ground in almost every area of American life, turning a corner for the modern era.

I love the fact that trains often are referred to in the feminine in lore and legend, by historians and folk ramblers. Why not? They are powerful, driven, nearly unstoppable, and ever on a mission. I know many women like that, and I'm sure I've been compared to an oncoming train by a few folks. I don't consider it an insult. Where once I was more easily "stopped in my tracks" I no longer feel it necessary to hesitate, ruminate, or brake for ever second thought that crosses my mind when it comes to minding myself and my children. Trains' bellies are filled with fire; the more I trust my own gut, the sooner I find that I get results.

Jim of My Boring Best (see previous post) shares a birthday with the reigning Queen of England. I was thinking about her watching old clips on the news. Queen Elizabeth II would never compare herself to a train, but, let's face it, you don't get anywhere as head of one of the world's most historically brutal monarchies without a little chutzpah. You have to sort of barrel through a whole mess of dangerous passes, yet with taste and decorum. I'm not much of a fan of the monarchy but I'll give her that.

There's little question that Rhonda Vincent is considered by many the reigning queen of Bluegrass (all you lurking Alison Krauss fans, just calm down). She and her drivin' band, the Rage, have a hot number called Kentucky Borderline, which I just love. It just gets me going when I'm down, when I'm having a rough morning, or when I feel like I need to kick a little gr-ass. One of the best things about this song is that it highlights the benchmarking talent in Rhonda's band -- Hunter Berry on fiddle, the spectacular Josh Williams on guitar, and the legendary Jerry Ingram on banjo. The not to be outdone Mr. Ed Harris fills in on bass; all are songwriters, too. If Rhonda and the Rage pull into a station near you, make sure you get out to hear 'em.

Kentucky Borderline

She pulled out of Mobile in the pouring rain,
Moving through the darkness like a hurricane.
From southern New Port waters to the Cumberland so green,
Louisville by Nashville and all points in between.
Pounding out a rhythm making up lost time,
Heading for that bluegrass state of mine.

(Chorus)White smoke a rollin'
Whistle a blowin'
Listening to her engine keeping time
Kentucky borderline.

Montgomery in the morning
Birmingham by noon,
Onward through the distance upward to the moon.
Her lonesome whistle cries a low sighed refrain,
Like the boys down on Mill street singing of the pain.
No one is gonna stop her from her appointed rounds,
This train is moving on, she's glory bound.


Her lungs are full of fire breathing burning coal,
A raging locomotion like thunder when it rolls.
Singing for the mighty who cast her molten steel,
Drawed the spike and layed the rail to ride beneath her wheels.
The pride of our nation she's a monument to them,
A southern bell that mighty L&N


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Not Just Another Day

Readers, this coming weekend marks the anniversary of two major events! It was a mere 36 years ago this weekend that conservationists held the first Earth Day. Just a few years before that, My Boring Best author Jim was born. So there is a lot to celebrate over the next few days.

Before I was kidnapped by bluegrass, environmental concerns – particularly the conservation of natural resources and the correction of environmental hazards affecting residents in urban environments – were a big focus of volunteer time. It's still a part of my lifestyle; as much as I can I stick with natural goods, whole foods, reducing, reusing, and recycling. I’m still involved with a group called The Earth Day Coalition (EDC), which got its own start marking the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Local readers can head on over to the zoo this Sunday, April 23 to celebrate with information, live entertainment, tons of activities, and good conversation. Park your bikes valet!

In a way, it’s kind of sad that caring for the environment – which can be as simple as not tossing your leftover paint down the drain or letting your car idle while you run into the corner store to buy your Auto Lotto ticket – has become such a “movement”. There was a time when folks weren’t so disconnected from what the earth provided and understood the impact humanity might have on sustainability.

Likewise, we’ve gotten away from peeling back the layers of our own lives to reveal the basic beauty in the pattern of living, working, loving, creating, and leaving behind. That’s really all there is, and, it is organic. Everything we do, whether it is forging a masterpiece of writing, framing a stunning photograph, passing on a banjo lick, raising a child, planting a garden, starting an organization, seeding a fight, writing a letter, voting, cooking a meal…all are acts of creation. We may not always see or understand the things we do as having the capacity to change lives -- those of others or our own. Nonetheless, everything we do has an impact on someone.

I am very glad that my friend Jim was born. Jim is the kind of person that probably doesn't realize the impact he has on other people. He is passionate, highly imaginative, outspoken, brutally honest, hardworking, caring almost to a fault, and extremely talented. He encouraged me to get this blog up, inspired me to rediscover my intellect, brought a new perspective to my children, and has become one of my most trusted friends.

People like Jim, and like friends I've met who are dedicated to recreating the way we live, leave their mark without trying. They are the individuals who create, stimulate, and encourage change because it's who they are.

This song is about living the life we’ve got and trusting that it’s not for nothing. We’re here a brief time, we write our song or paint our picture, and then we move on. A lot of people close to me right now are going through some pretty tough trials, like the family I work for who just have almost indescribable stress on them right now, or some of the folks in my own family who are battling some considerable health problems. Life can be really discouraging. But we keep tilling the soil, peeling the onion, turning over leaves, putting our shoulders to the wheel to make something happen.

Here’s to understanding, welcoming, and celebrating whatever that might be.

Another Day
From Traveler(Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, Universal Music Corp/Howdy Skies Music/Famous Music/Sheddie Songs/ASCAP)

This world is made with sweat and toil, pushing muscle and elbow oil
We can't lie too long in the shade, cause every day must be remade
Some days you fall some days you fly, but in the end we all must die
Our rotting flesh and broken bone will feed the ground that we call home

But a new sprout grows from a fallen tree, my sons will go on after me
So lift your heart and dry your eye, it's another day to live and die

I've run naked in the wild, seen the beauty of a newborn child
Like the alchemists of old, I've tried to spin my straw to gold
Most times a giver, sometimes a thief, so full of hope but prone to grief Between freedom and despair, I know that truth is lying there
I've seen the truth, it's lying there

And a new sprout grows from a fallen tree, this world will go on after me So lift your heart and dry your eye, it's another day to live and die

So go on now, don't you worry 'bout me, you've miles to go and a world to see
My life's been long and full and good, I've run this race the best I could
It's a short time here and long apart,
But the same song rings in both our hearts
So take my guitar when I'm gone, write your own rhymes, then pass it on Just take your hit and then pass it on

Let a new sprout grow from a fallen tree, this song will go on after me
So lift your heart and dry your eye, it's another day to live and die
It's another day to live and die, just another day

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

If These Four Walls Could Talk

I realize that to some of you silent readers out there I might come off as a groupie, or a flake, with an unhealthy "thing" for musicians. Some of my closest friends might even accuse me of "typical woman" behavior because I take an interest in a man who knows how to use a string instrument.

Hell, yes, I do, and women too, because I love the potential for making music. If someone is brandishing a guitar or banjo I make the leap that there is a reason and I want to see what that person does with it.

Well, with these guys, you don't have to look very hard. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, a group that has seen many variations over nearly 30 years, heads the pack of stylized bluegrass bands working today. Lawson has assembled some of the finest talent in traditional bluegrass, and all the members wield that talent like men who know how to use their guitars.

They also sing higher than I do. Now that's not something that just any woman would find interesting. But it's me, here.

DLQ are making the rounds in Ohio and are headed to Wadworth, just south of Medina, this Saturday, at the OJ Work Auditorium. I wasn't going to go, as it's the day before EarthFest and my kids are unable to join me. But I'm not sure I can let them slip through northeast Ohio without me.

I love this band for their spirited and flawless stage presence, their slapstick showmanship, their incredible music making, and the fact that like any bluegrass band worth their weight in Grammys, they clean up good. They do tend toward the Gospel side, which over the last few months I had to reconcile with, but their hearts are in everything they do and the music delivers that one hundred percent. That's what makes it work for me.

My kids love these guys and love to sing this song especially. It's a sad sort of unrequited love tale, but it's just so over the top its irresistible. Four Walls is a delicacy of pure and sappy, stylized, traditional bluegrass balladry. These guys are great instrumentalists but frankly I think they're all about the singing. Take a listen and you'll get what I mean.

And for you doubters, it takes quite a woman not to get all worked up if a good looking man sings higher than she does. (Ok yes, I've known quite a few, but that's another post altogether...don't start, Shannon!)

Four Walls

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Saturdays Were Made for This

My children and I are enjoying the best weekend we've had in a long time. I haven't even done a load of laundry (yet), almost unheard of. It's Easter Sunday, for those who celebrate or recognize the day. For me, it's always simply meant an opportunity to enjoy rebirth, welcome spring, and eat dessert.

Yesterday was just about as perfect a day as comes along. After fulfilling our favorite Spring past time, egg dying, we spent the rest of the day with My Boring Best. He took us on quite an adventure, leading us through caves, and scaling rock formations in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. To his credit, it was an extraordinarily brave feat, not being able to predict who would poop out first or whether the youngest among us could stomach the hike. Turns out she gave us quite a run for our money. MBB and Son of Mando Mama enjoyed some good picture taking and caving while daughter and I peeked into hobbit holes.

Having the weather, the time, and the reason not to do laundry, not to run errands, not to vacuum for the third time this week was pretty darn satisfying. We ate great Mexican food out of take out containers, covered our sidewalk in chalk drawings, watched MBB chase a frisbee in his socks and take a beating from Daughter of MM with swimming noodles, and watched a movie.

Can I make the leap to doing nothing once in a while? I guess I can try. It's hard not to feel that if every minute isn't used wisely, somehow it's costing me something. I realize that's ridiculous, but it's true. What will cost me is missing the kinds of moments like I had today, smiling so much that my face hurt.

Time flies. Kids grow. Opportunities pass. Of these truths I'm reminded this weekend, and how good it is to have a satisfied mind.

Satisfied Mind

How many times have you heard someone say

If I had his money I'd do things my way
But little they know that it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind

Once I was winning in fortune and fame
I had all that I needed to get a start in life's game
Then suddenly it happened, I lost every dime
I'm better off now, with a satisfied mind

Cause money can't buy back your youth when you're old
Or a friend when you're lonesome, or a love that's grown cold
And the wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind

When this life is ended, my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones I'll leave, there's no doubt
But one thing for certain, when I've served my time
I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Girl Friday #10: Feelin' Feisty!

Perhaps it's that spring wind-spring fever-full moon thing that's been going on all week, which began essentially last Saturday night with three hours of live Tim O'Brien. Perhaps it's the weather. Maybe it's knowing that we survived Homework World and can look forward to a week of spending a few evenings playing a few games, talking, walking in the park, watching TV -- yes, even TV! -- pulling out the guitar. (Btw, my son netted one "B" and all remaining "A"s on his recent report card, so you all have permission to tell me to shut the heck up next time I sound worried!)

So maybe it's all that.

Or maybe...I'm just feelin' feisty.

I've here shared many a romaticized notion about sitting on my porch, gazing out at the American landscape while surrounded by its original soundtrack. Then there is this potential: I'm a bluegrass crone, a settin' on my porch, mando on my knee, shotgun at my side. (Ok, maybe not so much, maybe it will be, I dunno, a butter churn.). I think actually that this would suit me fine. Already I am feeling myself set in my ways. In between now and then, though, I am sure there will be the odd adventure. Being spring, and all that, I'm thinking I'm about due for one of those.

Meet Little Maggie.

I’ve toyed with the set of lyrics that I present here. The third verse is one I imported from the version featured on Dirk Powell’s Hand Me Down recording (see previous post). None of the versions I found in my cursory look feature the verse I like best: The first time I saw Little Maggie She was lyin’ in her bed/With another man layin' beside her/And a pistol under her head

Like I said. Feisty.

This song is all about being a spirited, even unruly, woman. Reading the lyric alone you might not know what to expect, but the feisty tune kind of gives away the narrator -- his heartbreak is fairly minimal.

By clicking below, you should be able to download a live version by the Yonder Mountain String Band, a fabulous group of young musicians who are infecting college kids everywhere with enthusiasm for fiddle, banjo, and the like. Tim O'Brien opened for them in Columbus; I can't remember when I last smelled that much patchouli, if ever, at a bluegrass concert.

This is dedicated to all those feisty, freethinkin' fabulous women I've had the honor to meet in my lifetime, those who are openly feisty, and those who carry their spiritedness in more subtle ways. I realize this may be a bit inappropriate to some, being as it is good Friday. Well, I say, if Mary Magdelene indeed lived, I imagine she'd be all about Girl Good Friday not always being about good girls.

Amen, and pass me my pistol!

Little Maggie
Over yonder stands little Maggie, with a dram glass in her hand.
She’s drinking away her troubles, and courting some other man
Oh, how can I ever stand it to see them two blue eyes.
A shining in the moonlight like two diamonds in the sky.

Pretty flowers were made for blooming, pretty stars were made to shine.
Pretty women were made for loving; Little Maggie was made for mine.
Last time I saw my little Maggie, she was sitting on the banks of the sea.
With a forty-four strapped around her, and a banjo on her knee.

Rather be in some lonely hollow
Where the sun don't ever shine,
Than to see you be another man's darling,
And to know that you'll never be mine.

I’m going down to the station with my suitcase in my hand
I’m a going to leave this country, and I’m a going to some far distant land.
Go away, go away little Maggie--- Go and do the best you can.
I’ll get me another woman; you can get you another man.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Full Moon Fever: Moonshine is Fine

After a few brief but powerful storms passed through our area, I managed to sneak in a walk along the bikepath, tunes in tow, of course.

I was struck by how warm it was -- and I was captured by the teeming energy of what nature there was to surround me. Spring makes a certain call, an irresistable pull of life. The moist earth sprouting green, the ponds new with lily pads, the smell of woody decay and rain mixed to bring forth new growth.

I may be older and a bit wrinkly, but, I am a living thing, and am no stranger to that pulse, that need to push life through, reel with wild sensation, cry against the pain of birth, rage against the dying of the light, as one favorite poet might write.

The rural sensibility is hardly all about quiet repose. There is little that mountain or valley people don't connect to the cycles of earth, moon, nature itself, if tied by an invisible golden thread to a Godhead of some sort. Life is drawn hard from slim pickins but lived every bit.

When I completed my walk I made a trip to the grocery store, and when I came out, having survived Giant Eagle only by virtue of having my mountain tunes along, I was greeted by a perfect mellow full moon. Ah!

This song may already have made an appearance here. No matter, it's another perfect warm night on a summer porch kind of tune, presented again by Dirk Powell. His talent and commitment and pure devotion to the music has taught me to be completely unapologetic about this beautiful stuff.

There are as ever a lot of different, or slightly differing, versions of this song, variations to certain lines. It's been recorded hundreds of times. The tune is one of my favorites because of its irregular rhythm, more akin to the style of older mountain music. I've been playing through the songs on the album, Hand Me Down, and find the fast moving but somewhat syncopated lines to be a relaxing break from the stricter more predictable bluegrass back beat. These lyrics are only one set and are not ones that match the recording line for line. But you get the idea.


I've been a moonshiner for seventeen long years
I spent all of my money on whiskey and beer
I'll go down to some holler and set up my still
I'll sell you a gallon for a two dollar bill.

I'll eat when I'm hungry and I'll drink when I'm dry
If whiskey don't kill me Lord I'll live 'til I die.
God bless them moonshiners they're all friends of mine
Their breath is a sweet as the dew on the vine.

I'll go down in some grocery and I'll drink with my friends
No women to bother me or see what I spend
God bless them pretty women I wish one was mine
For their breath it is sweeter than even moonshine.

God bless that pretty woman I wish she was mine
For her breath it is sweeter than even moonshine.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sweet Spring Dreams

I've had spring fever for weeks, and tonight, for the first time in a while, I indulged in an after-work walk along the center valley bike path in Twinsburg.

It's been a long winter, not merely because of the weather, but because of the darkness, the cold, the confusion. Spring is always my favorite season because I clear out the mental clutter along with the other clutter, start to pull out dead plants and weeds and uproot unhealthy things, and make room for new growth. I have a lot of growing to do -- and based on how my pants fit today, a bit of shrinking, as well. Hence the brisk pace for the duration of my three-mile trek.

I had my tunes along and was enjoying a variety of old timey -- Art Stamper, Dirk Powell. At one point the music was down to a simple fiddle tune, and in the background, I could hear the sweet spring song of the frogs coming up from their muddy winter slumber. That sound has long been dear to me. I recall standing around a huge pond in pitch dark with friends out in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, silent except for the bellowing bullfrogs. I remember as a little girl in the country hearing the chirping of the frogs and crickets and other night creatures wafting into my bedroom window, lulling me to dreams.

The only life I ever really wanted was the simplest kind, with love and music at the center. Spring always makes me feel close to that desire.

As I listened to a simple tune played by Dirk Powell, I intentionally stopped to include the frogs, and imagined what it might be like to sit on some porch far from here with someone dear and listen to an ancient melody supported only by those other night noises, the scent of my youngest child's hair and the gentle kiss of her breathing against my cheek while she slumbers on, and the thoughtful gaze of my son up at the night sky while he takes in each phrase. We are at once past, present, future, the ancient united with the living, the sounds of an old mountain song overlaying the busy drone of night animals and light of stars and maybe, in the distance, headlights heralding the coming and going of other people with other histories under other parts of the same night sky blanket.

That for me is divinity.

Little Satchel

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Trad In The House

How do you tell the difference between a fiddle and a violin?

You don't spill beer on a violin, silly.

For those of you unfortunate enough to have missed the Tim O'Brien show last night at The Kent Stage, I figure it's my job to make you feel as included as possible, right down to Tim's O-jokes. What I can't convey as accurately was the best part of the evening which was, for me, spending it with almost my entire family, including my dear friends Lynne and Shannon. Unfortunately we were again minus my sister, who was giving thanks in Nashville that her new roof is still intact.

We took up an entire row except for about three seats on the end. My daughter excitedly made the rounds back and forth down the row of her uncles and aunts, while my son and I waited eagerly for the show to begin. Traveling with Tim for this show was the stellar Dennis Crouch on upright bass, and extraordinary Casey Driessen on fiddle, who really gave the crowd a run. There are few performers I enjoy watching as much as I enjoy Casey, who gives himself over pretty much entirely to the music. We enjoyed more than two hours of superior musicianship, self-effacing humor, music history lessons, and the kind of cameraderie, community, that helps me keep the inner flame burning.

What really was a very special treat, however, was being able to share this very meaningful experience with my brothers, who had at the center of their young lives music as well. The youngest has picked it up again, and while we were waiting for the others to arrive, the second oldest and I plucked out a few notes on guitar and mandolin. As I've said many times before on this blog, the work that Tim O'Brien does both as a songwriter and as a collector and presenter of older songs somehow connects with us in a way that makes the experience more rich somehow. His good-natured humor and quick wit cannot disguise the critical mass of intellect and musicality that make him both a worthy steward of the old stuff and the perfect spokesperson for roots material whether it is new, adapted, or restrung for the 300th time.

There is in his dedication to what he does the seedof my own inspiration. I don't really give a rat's ass one way or another what people think of me or the music, because it's what I love, and I have seen that other people love it, which helps me to feel a lot less crazy. Yes it's a relatively spare, pretty goshdarned specialized module of the music industry, but, despite all, it's what works for me. Thanks to Tim's example, a lot of us are able to accept that and live with the nerdiness that goes along with being trad fans. Moreover, we're willing to look silly getting all caught up in our enormously contagious enthusiasm to convince you to give a listen.

What's the difference between a banjo and an onion?

Nobody cries when you cut up a banjo.

(Post script #1: My son took some terrific pictures which, for some reason unknown to me, refuse to upload to Blogger. All I can say is, get off your ass and go see Tim, Casey, Dennis, and if you get the chance, Danny Barnes in person so I don't have to work my kid to death taking photos that you'll never see!)

(Post script #2: APRIL FOOLS! ALL of you can join in the fun when the show from last night is rebroadcast on, the brainchild of my favorite NPR station, WKSU. Host Jim Blum announced that it will be in about two weeks but I will get the skinny and share it with you here. Or, visit, stream great music, and you're bound to get firsthand info along with all that FolkAlley has to offer.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Girl Friday #9: Little Blue Ballads

I had started this post last night, but came back tonight to find whatever I had written, gone with the wind. No matter, really. I passed the evening quite pleasantly and it brought an insight or two.

I took my kids to a roller skating event to meet another friend, and his mother and I spent the time talking. She is a hard-working single mom like me, who grew up as a true West Virginian, a little south of the area where I was born and raised. At some point in discussing jobs and life and deciding where to go and what to do, she confessed she didn't really want to be here. What a relief it was to know someone else felt that way!

I can't say for sure what makes us each feel that way, but I suspect some of it has to do with the places we knew as children. Life in a place where there are real hills and valleys is just a bit different. She is a skier, and understands and knows the feeling of the deep breath that goes along with a view from the treetops. Although I can function in most any setting, it is my rural sensibility that ultimately pervades my life approach to most things.

The other night I was paging through my copy of Folk Songs of the Appalachian Mountains. This thin little volume was compiled by balladeer and guardian of mountain life, Jean Ritchie, now into her 80s. The Ritchie family hailed from Perry County, Kentucky, and her life's work emanated from the seriousness with which her musical family regarded the mountain ballad as a treasured heirloom both to be exercised and passed down. The book is a treasure, known fondly in folk circles as the blue book, full of Child ballads, lyrics, party songs, hymns, and stunning photos that depict Ritchie's life. I remember opening it for the first time several years ago, still with a young nursling, and being struck by the photos of women breastfeeding their babies -- something you see rarely today. There are photos of men and women and children playing instruments, stringing popcorn, quilting, church-going, crossing the tracks, being baptized, working in the garden, boiling their laundry, swimming in the pond, loving and rocking their children. Except that I never did see my own mama boiling the laundry, it was a life not too far from what I knew as a child, and its a life that no amount of wealth will provide in a place like I am now, because it's just too weird.

Life is simple. The collection of these simple songs, is not. Jean Ritchie, a simple mountain woman, is a dedicated tradition bearer who is capable both of living in her culture and protecting it in an objective, straightforward way that lends it credence among the rest of the world. That's a pretty thin line to tread, gossamer really. She is one of my true heroes.

Jean Ritchie had this to say about Barbry Ellen/Barbara Allen:

"This Ritchie version of 'the song everybody knows' is our family adaptation of the tune and text that is found in the part of Knott County Kentucky wherein my father, Balis Ritchie, was born and raised, and where the first twelve of us were born. We knew at least three other tunes in the family, but this one is my own favorite."

There are hundreds of versions of this song, and so I'm just going to lead you to this sample of Ritchie singing her favorite version.

Barbry Ellen

All in the merry month of May,
When the green budes they were swellin'
Young William Green on his deathbed lay,
For the love of Barbry Ellen.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwellin
Sayin, Master's sick and he sends for you
If your name be Barbry Ellen.

So slowlie slowlie she got up
And slowlie she came a-nigh him
And all she said when she got there
Young man I believe you're dyin.


Oh mother, o mother, go make my bed
Go make it long and narrow
Young William's died for me today
And I'll die for him tomorrow.

Oh she was buried 'neath the old church tower
And he was buried a-night her
And out of his bosom grew a red, red rose
And out of Barbry's grew a green briar.

They grew and they grew up the old church tower
Until they could grow no higher
They locked and tied in a true lover's knot
Red rose wrapped round the green briar.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Stuff I Want

Lately there's a buzz about "stuff". I love Dr. Don's adventure story of finding the perfect surround sound, and little black cube's tales of covetousness. We all got stuff we WANT, baby.

A dear friend of mine is planning a hoot of a 40th for herself, in Las Vegas. Now, I gotta tell ya, I am not a gambler, but this sounds like fun. She and Shannon have been dutifully priming a couple of us to understand what we can expect in the City of Sin. Ooooh, just the NAME makes me think, "I should do this."

And because it's someone I love dearly, I hope I can find a way. But it won't be for the gambling, that's for sure. Ahead of even a $3 craps table are the following items, in no particular order, on the list of things I'd throw disposable income if I had any:

1) More music. Now that I've discovered iTunes, I could be in trouble.
2) A banjo.
3) Lessons (ok, I'm actually planning to do this, so maybe it doesn't count.)
4) A new sound system - duh.
5) A better mandolin. The quality of the instrument really does make a huge difference in the sound and quality of playing. Even mine.
6) Someone to clean my house, REALLY clean it, every two weeks.
7) Traveling, although this would require time off, which I also don't have.
8) A better all around set-up for my connectivity (it took me three days to download my last addition to my music library), and a new computer for my kids.
9) All kinds of lessons for my kids.
10) Stocking my liquor cabinet. Since I rarely entertain anymore, I'm not sure what the point of this would be, but it seems like it should be standard.

I know in the end, it's not about the stuff. I'm pretty satisfied with my life, and learned long ago that all the stuff in the world won't make a person feel whole, satisfied, or loved. But some of it is pretty darn fun, if I do say so myself.

My kids love this song. If we all had our druthers, I guess life would be more like life on Big Rock Candy Mountain, and we wouldn't have to worry so much about making ends meet, putting bread on the table, and fixing our screens, all that boring stuff. It's fun to daydream.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fire was burning

Down the track came a hobo hiking and he said boys I'm not turning
I'm headin for a land that's far away beside the crystal fountains
So come with me we'll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars are all empty and the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees
Where the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
The farmer's trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh, I'm bound to go where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew and of whiskey too
You can paddle all around 'em in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in
There ain't no short handled shovels, no axes saws or picks
I'm a goin to stay where you sleep all day
Where they hung the jerk that invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
I'll see you all this coming fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountains

Lyrics provided courtesy of Bluegrass Lyrics.Com!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring Wind

I was positively exhausted last night and slept as hard as I can remember, well past my usual rising hour. But turning over at least once in the early morning dark, I lay listening to the sounds of birds. I love spring. The other day, upon returning from work to find that my crocuses had popped up, I nearly cried with relief.

When I finally got up, ground my coffee, and stepped outside to get my Sunday paper, I thought this would be a slow day. I needed it to be, but as usual, we spent it grocery shopping, cooking, doing homework. We did get to the park to enjoy the warm -- warm! -- breezes, play on the slides, check on the turtles. We knocked around with the neighbors a bit, and right now, with full bellies, the kids are back outside for one last hurrah before I pull the plug.

But it's hard to resist the glory of spring and these first few warm days. The kids and I will sleep extra hard again tonight, after our day of fresh air -- how I love to have the windows and screen doors open when I'm cooking.

Last night just before bed, I heard on WKSU a song I hadn’t listened to in a while. It’s by Greg Brown, a genuine troubadour who looks more like he repairs Harleys and fishes up in the UP than writes the most beautiful love songs and craziest story songs you’ve ever heard. I entreat you to check him out, and provide this beautiful song to tease you.

I hope wherever you may be that Spring Wind catches you for a while today.

Spring Wind
By Greg Brown
First released on Dream Café

I lived awhile without you,
darn near half my life.
I no longer see our unborn children,
Run to you my unwed wife.
But yesterday I had a vision,
beneath the tree where we once talked,
of an old couple burning
their love letters so their children
won't be shocked.

Love calls like the wild birds--
it's another day.
A Spring wind blew my list of
things to do away.

My friends are gettin’ older,
so I guess I must be too.
Without their loving kindness,
I don't know what I'd do.
Oh the wine bottle's half empty--
the money's all spent.
And we're a cross between our parents
and hippies in a tent.

[repeat chorus]

In a mucked up lovely river,
I cast my little fly.
I look at that river and smell it
and it makes me wanna cry.
Oh to clean our dirty planet,
now there's a noble wish,
and I'm puttin my shoulder to the wheel
'cause I wanna catch some fish.

[repeat chorus]

Children go to sleep now--
you know it's gettin' late.
I know you don't like to miss nothin'
and school ain't that great.
Oh, I'll dance with you when you're happy,
and hold you when you're sad,
and hope you know how glad I am,
just to be you're Dad.

[repeat chorus]

Darlin' it's been a hard go
but I think we'll be okay.
I know I say that all the time
like everything else I say.
Oh, I've been gone so often,
but every time I miss you,
and I don't really know nothin',
Except I like to kiss you.

[repeat chorus]

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Foolishness

Today I spent a little time with my former inlaws. My children were invited to a visit with some of their father's family from out of town. From what I can tell, they had a great time and then we all met up for dinner.

It was a bit odd at first, being among some folks I had not intentionally spent time with since before my divorce. My sister in law is someone I see occasionally because we enjoy many of the same things. But since the kids' dad couldn't find a way to make himself available, I had to facilitate things, and while at first I felt like once again I was stuck making up for his emotional ineptitude, it turned out to be a nice time spent with people who are as much a part of my children's constellation as I and my family.

While the kids were away for a few short hours, I ventured out to Kent to procure tickets for the Tim O'brien show next weekend, and ran a few errands. I stopped in to see my pals at the Gitterpicker String Factory and heard a bit of a pretty doggone amazing picking party going on. I went home, cleaned my ceiling fans, changed my furnace filter, replied to a candidate in Amsterdam, paid my water bill, and headed out to meet my kids and the ex's family.

This kind of stuff, maintenance, is something I just haven't done enough of, in my external or internal life. My life really is genuine. It's not glamorous. I don't get paid even half of what my ex makes, or complain half as much -- or at all, I have to say -- about doing my job. I have a really lovely and fairly wide constellation of people in my life. My children and I have a symbiosis that is rare and precious.

The more authentic I feel, the less tolerance I have for those wearing The Veil of Self-Importance, from the entire Bush Administration right on down to the diseased egos I bump into in my own life. It's sad that these April Fools, with so much invested into their overinflated sense of Self, have no real sense of self other than the Egos they flail about, even to the point of risking their greatest treasures. My daughter weighs less than 40 pounds, and yet evidently it's deemed acceptable for her to be placed in the back of a convertible with no booster seat. I'm not even sure it's legal. The distance between this kind of arrogance and stupidity and the hiring of, oh, say, Michael Brown to run FEMA, just ain't that great. The distance between one little life and thousands of lives, also not that great.

This April Fool's Day, stop and think how the fools in your life have affected it, wasted your energy, distracted you from acting with intention. Then, stop them. They have no rights, no power, no superior judgement, no exceptional privileges. Don't let their directionless, soulless vigilance to be a pain in your ass or a threat to humanity take up any more of your time. If you can, don't let it take up any one else's, either.

When I sat this evening with my kids' other family, they seemed not so much different from me. I realized that they had tired of the Veil long ago. Talking with them on this new basis where I owed them no particular line, duty, or behavior was very liberating. I had nothing to prove. What a difference it makes, living without that construct.

Home From The Forest
Written by Gordon Lightfoot; performed by Tony Rice; 1979

All the neon lights were flashin' and the icy wind did blow

The water seeped into his shoes and the drizzle turned to snow
His eyes were red his hopes were dead and the wine was runnin' low
Then the old man came home from the forest

His tears fell on the sidewalk as he stumbled in the street
A dozen faces stopped to stare but no one stopped to speak
For his castle was a hallway and a bottle his only friend
And the old man stumbled in from the forest

Up a dark and dingy staircase the old man made his way
His ragged coat around him as upon his cot he lay
And he wondered how it happened that he ended up this way
Gettin' lost like a fool in the forest

And as he lay there sleepin' a vision did appear
Upon his mantle shining the face of one so dear
Who'd loved him in the springtime of a long forgotten year
When the wildflowers did bloom in the forest

She touched his grizzled fingers and she called him by his name
And then he heard the joyful sound of children at their games
In an old house on a hillside in some forgotten town
Where the river runs down from the forest

With a mighty roar the big jets soar above the canyon streets
And the common con but life goes on for the city never sleeps
And to an old forgotten soldier the dawn will come no more
For the old man has come home from the forest

Lyrics provided courtesy of Bluegrass Lyrics.Com!