State Line Revelation
I was driving back to Oklahoma City last night from a show in Kansas City.
It was about three in the morning and I had a screw up with my toll ticket
The details are too long (and embarrassing) to go into but….well: I had TWO tickets.
And I gave the toll attendent the wrong one.
It threw both her and her machine for a bit of a loop.
And then I had to explain that I had just driven up that way
the day before to play a show.
And that I was now driving back.
“Oh,” she said. “What kind of music do you play?”
I hate this question
And I get asked it all the time.
And I bet I’ve given twenty variations of:
folk/Americana/roots/progressive/alt-country etc etc etc
And of course NONE of my answers have ever really explained ANYTHING
But there, last night, on the Oklahoma-Kansas line I just suddenly spurted out:
“Red Dirt Music”
“Oh, cool.” she said, totally satisfied with the answer.
She gave me my change and I drove on...with a big smile on my face.
ON OUR ARRIVAL IN SOUTH KOREA:
So, as we are getting off the plane in Seoul, a young Korean woman with her two year old daughter comes up to Dad and asks him: “Did you fight in the war?” Dad told her he had. “I just wanted my daughter to meet you,” she said. “So that when she grows up she will be able to tell her own child that she had met one of the men who had fought to save our country.”
Yea. That. Two minutes off the plane.
I’m going to Korea today. I’ll be back in a week. I will be with my father, who fought there, was wounded, and received the Purple Heart.
The entire ethos of my childhood memory banks are watered by the stories my father told me about his experience there, being a soldier, being a part of a team of men charged with putting their life on the line for their country. Dad was in college at the University of Florida when the war broke out. He was a smart kid, had gone to college when he was just 17. But when somebody in the SAE house told him that war had broken out in Korea, he asked: “Where is that.” Less than a year later, Lieutenant Lindsay Grant Peeples was in Korea. He was 21 years old.
I remember the story of the doctor who asked permission from my father to put his hand in his mouth after he was wounded, my father’s puzzlement about the question, and then the doctor saying: “I had to ask; I know you are from the south.” My father’s reply was, “You can put your damn foot in my mouth if you can get that shrapnel out of my neck.” The doctor…was black. I remember the stories of the men from Harlan County, who got my father to write letters for them to their girlfriends back home because…they couldn’t really write. I remember the love my father had for the Koreans who were assigned to his unit, and his telling me of the gratitude they had to the Americans for fighting for them. I remember the story about the time my father had been to Tokyo on leave, and bought a Butter Finger candy bar (a rare item) and stuck it in his coat pocket, and how a month later he was standing in the freezing Korean winter on some hill, shivering, and had his hands in stuffed in his pockets, where he felt the candy bar, and how he just pulled it out and ate it, without taking his gloves off to remove the wrapper. “I ate it paper and all,” he said, “though I might have spit out a little cardboard.” I remember the story about a truck load of Australians passing my father’s unit on some road as they marched along in the mud. One of the Aussie’s had on this straw hat, and as the truck passed my father said, “Hey, I like your hat, Aussie.” And how in an instant the Aussie swept the hat off his head and handed it to my father and said, “It’s for you, mate.” I remember the story about this guy from Kentucky who asked Dad in a foxhole one night what he thought was the best car. Dad said he didn’t really know. And the guy showed him a magazine photo of a blue Chevrolet, and said: “I’m buying me one of these when I get home.” They guy…didn’t make it home. The year my father did make it home…he bought a blue Chevrolet. And I remember the story my father told me about coming home after the truce, and how when he got to Seattle he was in his military uniform, with his medals and badges on his breast, and how some guy in a hotel lobby (I think that’s where it was) casually said to him in passing. “Hey, hero,” and how my father had to be pulled off the guy before he hurt him. But the most poignant memory of all is about what he found when he got home: people were going to dances, hunting and fishing, partying, going to football games and movies. They were so removed from the horror that he had just experienced. It was like they had no idea that over 50,000 Americans had just died on the Korean peninsula. Or, worse…didn’t care.
Those are only a few of the memories, and as I look back on what I have just typed out, I am struck by something: though my father told me stories of battle and death, of mortars and grenades, of hand to hand combat, these are not the stories that really informed my upbringing. Stories teach. At least good ones do. And I was taught by stories of human drama and compassion that he so carefully related to me.
Anyhow, I’ll be posting most this coming week about the trip. Not really sure what to expect. I guess we are just walking into this thing open ended. Like he did. Sixty-six years ago.
Footnote: Flying with us on the plane will be Boogie Howard, the medic who triaged Dad when he was wounded.
You’ve Been Doing it All Wrong
So, yea: I’m a sixty-one-year-old washed-out poet, masquerading as a folk singer. But I’ve learned some shit along the way. Seen some shit. And every now and then one of the young ones will ask me for some advice, which usually means they are wanting me to greenlight their music career, tell them that they should do this thing, that they have the goods and that they need to get on with it. Of course…I never sign-off. I don’t care how great I think they are or might be. No. This life is stupid. It’s a bad idea. It’s not something you should do. Its not a good way to plan your years so that you don’t end up eating cat food in a cold walk-up in your final days. Even if you ARE good. You got to be really really good. And good at a LOT of things. Or…you have to be really good at ONE thing, and then roll that up into a tight ball and bounce it as high as you can. One of BIG MISTAKES that most young performers are making these days is…the songs they are singing. Bad repertoire is the stock and trade of some of the best performers out there. Cause yea, they are singing their OWN songs. What I know is that if you are trying to bust in, break out, get a leg up, and you are trying to do it as something and someone original, and all of your ORIGINAL songs ORIGINATE with YOU, you are messing up. Sorry. Quit doing that. Your body of work is holding you back. Which doesn’t mean you aren’t any good. It just means you don’t have a body of work yet that can launch you into the misty galaxy of bullshit known as success in the music business. You need to be hunting songs, really really really good songs, by other writers. They don’t have to be famous songs. They shouldn’t be famous songs. They should be great songs by other folks who have been fighting their way into the middle, just like you. And the performances or recordings you are going through to find these songs might not sound stellar. But, you ever hear the tape Hank Cochran singing “I Fall to Pieces?” Well, I have. Sounded like dog wanky. Hank had limited range, was nasally, had minimal guitar skills. And he was living in a bunk house in Nashville. He was nobody. But Owen Bradley, Patsy’s producer, recognized that the song had nerves; and he knew that Patsy could get on them. Do you think Patsy Cline would be a known figure today if she had only recorded songs she had written? I know this is ONE example, but I can give you thousands of others just like it. Don’t make me. I know what I’m talking about here. If you are living in East Nashville or Austin or Portland or Asheville or where-ever, and you’ve made a couple of records and you are out banging around, playing gigs around the region, but really getting nowhere with it, I can GUARANTEE you that most of those song you are doing are your own. And that you are filling in with some covers of famous people and famous songs here and there. That’s the formula that you and all the other wannabees are embracing. And…it’s a bad formula. YOU NEED TO TOTALLY REVUE AND REVISE YOUR REPETOIRE, YOUNG LADY/MAN. What you SHOULD do is assess the body of work of all those friends you have made in the business. Yea. The OTHER ones who are embracing the same failing formula that you have. And start picking out THEIR best material. You must have 20 friends that you know from the open mics, festivals, workshops, bar and café gigs, parties and faux opium dens that you have been going to. Some of them are further advanced in their careers than you. Others, not so much. Point is: we ain’t talking Lucinda or Steve Earle here. But almost all of them have a song that you’ve heard that has raised your eyebrow just like a Lucinda or Steve song has. Well…all those songs you’ve been singing are NOT eyebrow-raisers. But you can start working on a repertoire of ‘original’ eyebrow raising songs that you could go play virtually ANY where, and that would be almost totally unrecognizable to the audience. (Your friends will LOVE it if you do their songs, btw) And this collection of songs could all be eyebrow raisers. “Oh,” you say. ‘But I want to do my own songs.” YOU ARE TWENTY SOMETHING YEARS OLD!!! FIRST THING YOU NEED IS A FUCKING AUDIENCE!!! AND THOSE SONGS YOU ARE WRITING AND PERFORMING ISN’T DOING IT!! Sorry to be so mean. But there. I told you what to do. Go to work. Go on a search. Start making lists and notes. If you hear something you like, ask the performer for the lyrics and chords. See if you can do something with it. If so, nail it down and go with it. If not…move on to something else. Just because it’s a great song, doesn’t mean that it would be great for you. I submit: Blue Bayou. Anyhow that’s it. I gave this to you. You can be famous now. If even you get there, going for it was a bad idea. Send money to my Paypal account please email@example.com
How it Works (part 2)
High achievers on the SAT
make for mighty poor
Likewise, intolerance and self-justification
follow blindly a dull unfamiliarity
with the Classics
Hence, America’s ruling race seeks to train
---rather than educate---
Philosophy, art, history, anthropology, literature---
are all enemies of the Great State
Their calculated degradation is conflated with patriotism:
Which herald’s any scoundrel who will wave the flag
How it Works
Just as the Catholic Church once suckled the teats
of NAZI Germans---
fundamentalist Christians are now spooning
with Dionysian Trumpians
Each of these pairings are galvanizations
of scripted perversions
regarding the difference between
the spiritual metaphor
of turning the other cheek
and the literal, physical, insensible action
of simply looking
the other way