Monday, January 16, 2017
I'd been riding over to the house where this photo was taken on my BSA, fiddle strapped across my back. Every Friday night Tommy Thompson, the banjo player, and Bobbie, his wife and the guitar player, threw a big music party. Tommy and I were in grad school at the UNC philosophy department at the time. Probably the first time I went to one of those parties was 1966. It was before Tommy met Alan. The parties at that time were sort of bluegrassy and centered around a singer from down the road named Tom Turner, who played everything in G or C. I was just starting to relearn the fiddle and I remembered just enough to be able to play in the open keys of A and D, so I would tune my fiddle down a notch and mess around in the chords Turner was circling. He played stuff from the '40s and '50s. I particularly remember "Take Me In Your Life Boat," and "No Vacancy." I'm sure I remember these because the music was my lifeboat, and because there was most definitely room for me at Tommy's inn.
Probably after a year or so Tommy and Bobbie met Alan, through the auspices of Bertram Levy, who knew Alan from Duke University. That's Bertram on the mandolin. After Alan came into the circle, the music changed pretty quickly to focus much more on fiddle tunes, and the four Hollow Rockers started having closed practices, getting tighter, and Tommy switched to a claw-hammer style and not long after, an amazing Fairbanks banjo with an open back, ivory friction pegs, and ornate inlay on the finger board. Then their LP came out, and I got a copy and started trying to learn the wonderful tunes Alan had collected, mostly from an old man named Henry Reed who lived up in Glen Lyn, Virginia, and was said to be 85 or so. The tunes were not easy, but not impossible. Alan played with a remarkable clarity not typical of most fiddlers. He was in fact a master teacher of the art of fiddling. He wanted people to hear the tunes clearly. As he often said, he was rescuing the old tunes from oblivion, he was the last grain in the hour glass. Sometimes a tune would pop into my head whole after I'd been working on it over and over, suddenly some missing phrase or notes was there, and it made sense. Along about then Tommy and Bobbie split up. I rode up one Friday night on the bike and Bobbie said they'd broken up and she wasn't doing the parties any more. By about then I'd learned enough to make up a little band called The Smoky Grass String Band, with Nowell Creadick on banjo and Rosie Reddick on guitar, both of them Friday session regulars. We went to fiddler's conventions in the summer, which was 1969, and at Galax I saw from a distance a band called the New Tranquility String Band, which included Mac Benford on banjo and the beautiful Sue Draheim on fiddle.
In November '69 I passed my oral for an MA in philosophy, got a very high draft lottery number which guaranteed that I would not get drafted to Vietnam, and climbed into a '59 Chevy pickup with a couple of friends and rode out to San Francisco. My sister was living in Oakland, and only a couple of blocks from Mac Benford and the Tranquility folks as it turned out. You could hitch back and forth between San Francisco and Oakland by just standing on a particular corner and waiting for someone to stop. Usually when you got in the driver handed you a joint. It was the same deal when you went to a movie out there. A joint would come down the aisle, you'd take a hit and pass it on. One night I went to a free flick at U. Cal in Berkley and got to hear Fritz Lang lecture on Goddard's film Contempt, starring Bridget Bardot and Jack Palance. I didn't spend much time thinking about philosophy out there. I listened a lot to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, practiced fiddle, wandered the winter streets and watched the daffodils emerge in early February. I ran out of money, got a job as a guard at the annual San Francisco Boat and Gun Show at the Cow Palace, worked 14 hours a day for ten days, plus rode an hour each way from the Mission to the show on a city bus, surviving on hot dogs and hot Doctor Pepper. My pay check bounced at the end, since I was working for crooks, but they replaced it and I got on a bus back to NC in early March. When Union Grove came around I went, and the folks who were the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, including Bobbie Thompson, invited me to join. We practiced Wednesdays and Sundays, Wednesdays at Bobbie's house, Sunday's at Malcolm and Vickie Owens' place over in Calvander, NC near Chapel Hill. I applied for a job in social work in Durham County, but was told I was "over qualified" and should not wear "curious shoes" to job interviews. I got a job selling motorcycles, then a somewhat better job at Duke University Press through the auspices of Bobbie, who worked there.
Alan had moved to a teaching gig at UCLA by then, and the Hollow Rock band had pretty much broken up. (Tommy, Alan, and Jim Watson revived the band for a nice Rounder record in '74.) Much of the Hollow Rock tune repertoire, recorded and unrecorded, was already known by Malcolm, Eric Olson, and Bobbie. I got various tapes from them to study, including a tape of a second Hollow Rock record they'd been working on when Tommy and Bobbie broke up. The Fuzzy Mountain band, or portions of it, went to a lot of fiddle contests and festivals in 1970 and 1971. Along the way we were approached by Rounder Records, and made the first Fuzzy Mountain String Band LP in the fall of '71 on some very amateur equipment in the parlor at Bobbie's house. Before it could be cut and released in the spring of '72, Bobbie had been killed in a car wreck driving to a new book designing job at Princeton University Press.
That was as big a bomb as ever went off in my life. There was a musical wake at my house. Alan was there. Some very intense tune playing went on. Alan and I kept in touch, talked about fiddling and more generally music as I was helping to form the Red Clay Ramblers with Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson and Mike Craver in the fall of '72 and on into the spring of '73. Now and then through the decades Alan I would find ourselves in the same place and get down to some fiddling together. Many of the tunes he'd learned from Reed and others were also part of my core repertoire of tunes. Still are! This coming weekend Libby and I will play a contra dance down in Morehead City, and I'll probably play Quince Dillion's High D tune, and Green Willis, and maybe some others. A number of Alan's tunes were "crooked," in the manner of the Appalachian way. The contra folks don't take to that.
The old circle is dwindling away. A lot has happened since 1966. But I can say, for sure, that had I not encountered Alan Jabbour, I would never have gone far down the fiddler's path. As he was such a peaceful man, I'm sure he'll rest in peace forever. Or if he's of a mind, kick up a tune, with Bobbie on the guitar and Tommy on the old five string. Maybe that'll happen around when the daffodils pop up here, which is a sure sign that Union Grove is coming up again on the calendar. Maybe Kenny Baker and Tommy Jarrell will sit in on that session. I might go sit up on the hill behind the cabin here, and take a chair and a bottle of Dewar's, and watch the sun set and listen carefully deep into the night. I'd hate to miss one of those tunes.
Friday, January 13, 2017
We were getting some supplies for the Old Vet. These days he really likes Chex cereal, and will eat a couple of bowls with milk in the evening after disliking his dinner. There was also a need for some bathroom supplies. We were at one of the so-called dollar stores, which tend to offer the best deals on such stuff. At the check-out politics came up. The woman at the register complained about her feet hurting all the time. She'd had to leave her manufacturing job, which involved standing on a concrete floor all day. The company hadn't come through on compensation she believed was owed her for creating a long-term disability. She was standing on a concrete floor at the cash register. All commercial and industrial buildings built in the last 60 years have concrete floors. They last way longer than wood floors. Mostly commercial and industrial buildings are constructed of various kinds of masonry materials and steel, top to bottom. The stuff lasts, and won't burn or get et up by the bugs.
“I voted for Trump,” the cashier said. She apparently had hopes that he would improve labor conditions. “You know,” we said, “his labor secretary is totally against unions and a minimum wage, and hates government regulations. If you look at his ads, he's also kinda squirrelly about women.” (The labor secretary designate runs Hardees, which features a lot of gigantic oozing burgers being scarfed by model type women who would never in a million years eat such a thing. The ads appear a lot on NASCAR race coverage.)
“He's against all abortion,” she said. I figured that was the true wedge issue. Around here “pro life” people probably comprise about 40% of the electorate, and 80% of the churches are hard-core pro-life outfits where the preachers talk stuff like the alleged baby genocide the liberals have inflicted on the country since the '70s and Roe V. Wade. This is why the totally bizarro rumors of a baby sex ring headed up by Mrs. Clinton got enough traction to send some lost 20-something from NC up to Washington last month to shoot up a local pizza joint. Why not a baby sex ring? They're already murdering babies every day. The folks who hop on that train don't have to think any further. Trump says “agin,” Clinton says “choice.” Nuff said.
“They're trying to make him lose his hotel,” the cashier continued. “That isn't fair.” I hadn't heard that argument before. At Trump's news conference the other day he had a lawyer bring out a huge pile of alleged legal documents which were, she said, merely half of the work it took to put the Trump business empire into the hands of his blind boys, who he would never talk business with again. Reporters were not allowed to inspect the pile of documents, a fact that was not reported until much later in the day, and not on any teevee I happened to watch. I could imagine the picture she'd formed. One of those warm cozy hotels like you see on Matt Dillon, a few rooms up some stairs, a couple of friendly poker games, a table or two with diners (monster steaks, shots of whiskey to wash it down), Miss Kitty at the bar, head to head with Matt, low talk about some rustlers rumored to be coming Dodge's way in the next day or two. Some Philadelphia lawyers trying to steal it all from the man who had come to clean things up, “drain the swamp” as he says. Reminded me of the Gram Parsons song:
On the 31st floor, a gold-plated door, can't keep out the Lord's burning rain.
The cashier hadn't been to New Yawk, or to Singapore. Maybe she'd seen some quick shots of big planes on approach over big cities, but the Trump branded buildings below were not featured in such shots.
My wife said “you know, I think it's probably better that each of us has the chance to decide about such personal things as a pregnancy, not some government official. There can be an awful lot of situations...” She didn't push it. The items were bagged. A lady over in the next aisle, she happened to be black, caught my wife's eye and gave a tiny nod of agreement. We headed on over to the rest home.
Course he knew he couldn't get rid of his businesses before he decided to run, I told Libby. He's only sitting on the horns of his own dilemma.
Monday, January 9, 2017
I grew up in Raleigh, NC, about a block north of the NC State campus. My dad taught philosophy and religion at State. He'd founded the Philosophy and Religion department in the early '40s, after arguing to the powers-that-be that even students studying technical subjects such as engineering and scientific agriculture needed some courses in the so-called liberal arts. If you crossed the campus at about mid-point you'd cross some railroad tracks that carried Seaboard trains (as I recall). I could see the smoke from the engines from my upstairs bedroom window, before the big switch to diesel. Beyond those tracks were sports fields and William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, where State played basketball and where both the Dixie Classic winter tournament and the ACC basketball championships were held. Then there were dorms, and beyond that a big early four-lane called Western Boulevard, and on the far side of that, the WRAL TV studios, sporting a big transmission tower they decorated for Christmas every year. (That's the tower in the background above. On the right is the terrific WRAL "weatherman" Greg Fischel, who got the current blizzard just right, as usual.)
Which is to say, briefly, that the WRAL company was a neighbor, and I still think of them that way even though one of the things they brought to North Carolina was Jesse Helms, to whom they awarded a daily commentary feature on their evening news in the early 1960s, just in time for the civil rights struggles and following on, the long push-back against the Vietnam War. Helms of course used this daily diatribe, which was probably the strongest draw the station had for it's news versus the competing local news shows around the Research Triangle, to springboard himself into Congress in 1972, with the help of a progressive who split the NC Democratic Party that year. Helms of course then stayed in the Senate until he retired well into his '80s, and along the way destroyed the political careers of a number of promising North Carolina Democrats, including Governor Jim Hunt and Mayor Harvey Gant, by defeating them decisively in re-election campaigns.
My high school senior class president, a very upstanding citizen named Jim Goodmon, succeeded to the presidency of WRAL sometime in the late '70s, and has steered the station through many challenges as well as engaging in other community work around the Triangle, including building a new baseball park for the Durham Bulls, and refurbishing the brick tobacco warehouse district of Durham (or some of it) into something called the American Tobacco Campus, a part of the University of North Carolina. I've been very proud to observe from a distance the good work Jim has accomplished, and enjoyed his speeches at the two high school class reuions I attended. Again, just saying: neighbors.
So here we sit in the western Chatham County woods, snowed in. The power didn't go out, the water didn't freeze up, the firewood has held up, same with the propane. We can cook, stay warm, watch teevee. Libby did a masterful job of shopping for groceries just before the storm. Today I'm going to bake a couple of small chickens. Saturday during the snow she made turnip greens with turnips and corn bread dumplings, and damn if that warn't absolutely fantastic snowed in, fair, or any other time or weather for that matter. We can't get out to check on the old vet, but we can at least call the facility and have them assure him daily that we're alive and will return as soon as the roads get safe to travel. That's expected to be the case sometime tomorrow, Tuesday. Amazingly, they're predicting 70s by Friday.
I watched the football and the basketball yesterday, then switched over to a Masterpiece Theatre Sherlock Holmes. Libby came in from the kitchen and said to pause Sherlock and watch something she'd just DVR'd on the other teevee, Meryl Streep's speech to the Golden Globes. Here's what Ms Streep said (as transcribed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association):
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. This town, thank you. I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read. Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.
But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no — in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.
They gave me three seconds to say this. So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. Go on with that thing. OK. This brings me to the press. We need the principal press to hold power to account to call them on the carpet for every outrage.
That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” Thank you, friend.
It's a fine sermon. It reminds all of us that great harm can be done simply by thoughtlessly modelling behavior--if you happen to be, say, a President. You will notice, if you read the speech, that Mr. Trump is not mentioned by name. Ms Streep simply refers to a piece of behavior which Mr. Trump was filmed doing. You've seen the film, we all have. He mocks the afflicted arm and hand of a reporter with (I believe) ALS, because the reporter had objected to something Trump had earlier said. Mr. Trump still denies the plain fact that this is what he did, even when it is on film. He did so again after the Streep speech, and dismissed Ms Streep as a "Hillary supporter."
On the WRAL news after the speech, the lead was "Streep Attacks Trump." If you google the speech you'll find such reporting all over the internet. Streep attacks Trump.
I don't have much to say to the "principled press" of the world. Ms Streep can do that better than I can. She has a bigger microphone, and a hell of a lot more volume. She also has the chops. As one of the great living American actors, she has, as she says in the speech, the skill of empathy. This is what acting is, according to those that manage to do it well. And all she's saying, to all of us, is that we all need to practice empathy. But to my old neighbors over at WRAL, well I'd have thought you would have done a better job of journalism last night when you reported the speech. Ms Streep didn't attack Trump, she used a factual example of something he really did to make a point about empathy, and about the moral duty of any president, even the president-elect.
This isn't something that has to fit on the head of a pin. It's more like a blizzard.
Here's some other reporting: http://nomoremister.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-next-leader-of-free-world-was-up.html
Monday, January 2, 2017
Right before New Years I got into a big frenzy about getting up some firewood, seeing as how we're burning the stuff daily and the various stacks are definitely decreasing in volume. I'd scoped out a perfect red oak, situated within almost tossing distance of one of the stacks. It was going to get hung up by a maple to the south, so I cut the maple first, then the oak, and wonderfully they both fell right where I'd "aimed," and I had two trees on the ground to work on. These are not monsters let me assure you. In previous years I'd have had them both cut and split in an afternoon. But no longer. I feel exactly the same but after doing exactly the same things for a while a bunch of fresh aches and pains arrive. So the oak is cut into rounds, and I've split some of the bigger ones (such a nice feeling, to pop open a red oak round with one or two swings of the Fiskar, so different from last winter's damn-it-to-hell chestnut oak, which would take sometimes 20 minutes with axe, sledge, and wedges--plural!! sometimes just to get to the half stage). Next morning the kid was coming out for a delayed Christmas and I was making the vaunted Hicks family beef stew like my mom used to make, and we were working on getting the living room in some sitting room shape. I moved a box of books out to the truck--we have a plan to sell some of those books that are just decoration in the living room so's to have some space for other books. I used a dolly, but by the end of that my back was setting into a real back ache situation.
Now it's January 2, and the ache has moved to the other side of the ole back, and might be a bit better, and the box of books still sits on the front seat of the truck, and we've had two days of rain. I did burn a bit of the brand new oak, setting it close to the stove for a good while to dry it out some. Baptism. The days of football end today pretty much. The new year is exactly like what we left behind aside from the numbers. So here's a very good piece from the internet that should be saved and studied. You might even want to print it out--who knows, Trump could be right about putting things of value down on actual paper, although he's forgotten to mention the other part about stuff on paper that the high level practitioners of various forms of authoritarianism from the dark past always took advantage of: it burns.
Every fire I start is therefore a blow against history. I do my totalitarian part. I go down to the recycle center and pull random newspapers out of the newspaper bin, and bring them back home to start wood stove fires. Headlines vanish in the process. Heels Face 3rd NCAA Probe. McCrory Loses to Cooper. So it goes. Did I burn up the very last bit of evidence?
Here's the link. Print it out if you wish, your call. I won't be surprised if at some point this year it vanishes, but maybe that's just me.
While you're at it you could print out the vaunted mom's beef stew recipe.
1. cut up two pounds of surloin beef roast and brown in the stew pot
2. after browning, add a cup of water and start cooking
3. cut up 5 carrots, 5 celery sticks, 5 medium potatoes, 2 jalapenos, several roma tomatoes, add to pot
4. pour in one large can of diced tomatoes, rinse can with water, add that and more water till the stew is covered
5. add one cup of red wine, salt, black pepper
6. bring to a boil, then simmer for at least an hour and a half, until flavors are well blended
Heat source is optional. We use propane out here in the woods. If you have a big enough library, books would work.