It is confusing at year's end, Christmas upon us, married and therefore apparently institutionalized, to find everywhere the consternation of the ecclesiastics, beating their frocks in jumping-jack frenzy like flocks of seagulls descending on crackerjack crumbs--don't go round hungry now, y'all. Standing the other day in the Wake County Court House, in a line of 500 or so of our fellow citizens, waiting to be blessed by the junior DA: "You are free to leave, go and sin no more," my wife and I then went shopping and I bought at her loving encouragement a pair of new dress shoes from China. Then we drove home in our little plastic truck, out to the country at the edge of the Research Triangle. We had taken communion, yet we heard around us in the coming weeks a quickening rant concerning the alleged hijacking of Christmas. But I bought my Chinese shoes, I thought. I have spent. We also cut down a little cedar from the former pasture--wait and don't mow and they will come, and so they did. We hauled it into the TV room with the wood stove, covered it with tiny Chinese lights and the old ornaments from 20 years of marriage, and Libby put a little stuffed bird at the very top. There are presents underneath as well, and it makes both of us very happy to look at it, lights on or off. And two days hence, Christmas Itself "arrives," the earth in actuality turning into it as it sits there in its empty box, we enter and enjoy the ambience, the beautiful walls, the sun and sky, and then we leave, the starry drive home, feeding the neighbor dogs while the neighbors are up in DC, a warm late shot of The Macallan and then off to a snuggly bed.
Libby got a nice gift from Michael Kelsh, his new CD, "Well of Mercy," which I then managed to garble in an email to him as "Wall of Mercy," but it's a good CD and as I said to him, mercy is surely the central thing in this universe at least where the living are concerned. Fire, this little spark, this breath, this flicker, this will. And with that must come mercy, or otherwise there is only death and destruction. That's the choice. Michael's got it right. The best song on the disk is, I think, "Homeless Man." It's easy to pretend that the homeless have become cliches. That's what Rush and the rest of the puffed up hypocrites want us to think. They're so dirty and annoying. They're actually, a lot of them, the lint that's left from our last wonderful Adventure, Vietnam, oh so long long ago now that it's getting like the Civil War, who really remembers any of that shit, it's just faded pictures and funny old unhip helmets and guns, a time just before computers, when all they had was napalm.
I met a guy in the laundromat a couple of years ago. Ten AM and he's a little buzzed and he opens this lunch box he's got and out flies a big black crow. The bird circles the room, the ladies ducking, annoyed, by their machines, and then he comes back and lands on the box and the guy opens it and he hops inside. I went over and he opens the box and the crow hops out, and I look in there and there's a bottle of Old Crow. Some left, some gone. The guy's riding a scooter, and he's come about 20 miles to the laundro. He's crashing with some buddy from Nam and helping him build a carport. He was a chopper pilot in the war, and told me they sent him in to some river place near Cambodia and he was to maintain radio silence at all cost, and he and his buddies crashed and he spent a chunk of time as a POW and some of the guys didn't make it. He had before Nam been an engineer. He was an officer and a gentleman, with style and a pet crow and a Cushman to go with his broken, broken heart.
So who writes songs about that, it's so depressing. Like the Marines say, we kill people and break things, it's our job. And who can even write anything when today we have a guy running things who is ok with sending a whole lot of people into that very same black hole again just because some other people he thinks are real smart make a lot of rosy predictions which haven't turned out. No let's not even think about going there, let's not even think about anything, let's watch more football and if there's some problem let's get on the case and protect the twin Institutions of Christmas and Marriage. I'll keep an eye on the tree till I take it down. I'll keep an eye on the marriage too.
Michael's there on the CD cover looking a little like Christ, a little like the homeless guy, little beard, little scruffy, headphones, singing into the mike ('40s Neumann he says). His voice is gentle. There's a good steel player, a light snare here and there, a few solid Tele breaks, and some tasty fem vocal backup when it's needed. Rodney Crowell, who played with Emmylou and wrote for her as well, produced the CD. Back when I was in the Ramblers I played for Rodney's wedding to Rosanne Cash, which was a great party and I'm sure those two tried their best to make it work but I heard it just didn't. The best thing about the CD is just that it's here on my kitchen table, that Michael, who started singing his songs in Chapel Hill way back when kept at it, kept blowing that little ember, and eventually took off to Nashville, and eventually must have run into Rodney, who liked his stuff enough to get involved.
They may not give Michael air on the Clear Channel. Over there they put up big billboards to "Our Leader" like it's North Korea or something and push the Dixie Chicks off the plank and into the cold green sea. Michael's not a guy who's selling Fords or Chevys, not even a guy who wishes a Ford and a Chevy would still last ten years like they should. He's singing about a woman who tells his story so different he can't even recognize himself in it, and about a guy in rags from Nam, who wants a dollar to spend, "and don't bother your mind about where." I'll admit that I can't listen to a Clear Channel station long enough to really know what they'll play. Kelsh at least won't sneak in a "fuck" like Ms Welsh did, and he does write about broken hearts of the domestic variety, and there's even a song about redemption, which might snag the monkey who programs the late hours.
I'm thinking, at any rate, that it might be time to just let these Xianfascistas have the twin Institutions and the rest of us just go on living, blowing on the flame, keeping the fingers warm against the icy wind that blows in from a place where there's no mercy at all, where there's nothing but nothing itself, cold and black, with nothing but a shining Idea of itself.in its hip pocket, looking sort of like a cold .45. How many Institutions can fit on the head of a pin anyway? That's where this shit comes from, and it'll take mercy to melt it. So an irony meets a pustulating contradiction. The Xians rant at Christmas on the radio about how the "gays" are pure-T evil--that's ok with the FCC, to single out a whole big bunch of people and cast dispursion on them--while Kelsh finds enough mercy to include even that ragged shaking old vet around the fire, no matter what he does with that dollar. That could maybe melt even a neocon's icicle heart, to actually see the steam coming off the pile of rags dancing around that bonfire under the bridge. But--here's the twist--if their darkness really falls, their radios may not play that channel any more. A holiday best.
--Fiddlin' Bill, Xmas, '04 [Michael Kelsh's CD is distributed by Redeyemusic]