Right Place, Right Time

My dear old friend, Jerry Swift, former owner of The Ritz music hall in Memphis and with whom I shared musical memories, misadventures, and shenanigans in the mid-to-late 70’s, challenged me to post a slice-of-life story. Jerry, you were one of the early stars and co-horts to my colorful life:

Late 1977, after coming off the road with Captain Beefheart in support of Shiny Beast, I met up with Harry, Don’s manager, for a thank-goodness-the-tour-is-over weekend in New Orleans. My second visit to this sexy, provocative, mysterious city. Staying with friends of Harry’s, we piled in the car to go hear music finally pulling up to a block already lined with people. We bypassed the line, Harry back-slapping all the doormen & bouncers on the way past. Sliding into Tipitina’s, a vibrant energy thrummed, expectation I’d rarely experienced in a small venue (exceptions Alex Cooley’s, The Ritz, Cafe Wha, Agora Ballroom, Bottom Line).

Harry, being Harry, had scored us a table up front. Shots of Jack tossed back. Lights dimmed. Music started. Wild Tchoupitoulas danced their way on to the stage, feathers flying, feet stompin’ full of rhythm-from-a-dozen-cultures. I was clear blown out of my chair and on my feet moving parts of my body I didn’t know even moved, barely noticing as the stage filled with Neville after Neville and a few guests – including Harry with his harp. I turned, surprised – but not really – to see his empty chair.

Harry was a man of a million stories, each better than the last. Former manager of The Meters, learned harp from Charlie Musselwhite and Sunnyland Slim, and I could go on and on. But Harry’s a story for another day. As is Van Vliet – I still have the rapidograph set he bought me in some art store somewhere between Atlanta and Birmingham.

On the way home way past 2am, Harry asks “will you be really disappointed if we don’t bum around the city today? Aaron asked if I’d come lay some harp tracks down on their album.” Disappointed? Not. Driving across the Pontchartrain late morning full of excitement and possibilities, sun glittering on the water ’til we finally drove into Studio in the Country in Bogalusa. It would be a day and night that imprinted deeply. The musical process with all players in the same room. No overdubs that day. Jack Nitzsche, manic beyond description, behind the board. Channeling mentor Phil Spector. Jack, brilliant, yet frequent-crazy-town-resident, orchestrator of Ike & Tina’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” That day there were moments I wept with emotion. Laughed so hard I snorted. Felt my heart beat faster at magic as it happened. I couldn’t stop staring at Aaron’s birthmark. I tried, I really did.

A revered right-place, right-time memory. Magically up-close, immersive, and personal. “Life’s been good to me so far.”

If you know Harry Duncan, give him a hug from me!

SHUFFLING ACROSS THE PONTCHARTRAIN
Washable Ink – The Neville Brothers
In The Heart of the Night – Poco
Congo Square – The Neville Brothers
Arianne – The Neville Brothers

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Zig Zag Wanderer

November 1978. Was sent out to work a handful of shows with Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.

Driving between Atlanta & New Orleans on the tour bus, Don and I discovered our deep love and fascination with art supply stores. He’d often make the bus driver get off the interstate to track down a store. No simple feat in those days prior to Google and the internet. You had to find a phone book.

Once located and inside, it was an endless treasure hunt. We’d be on opposite sides of the store and would excitedly raise our arms high, prize discovery in hand.

At one of those nameless, long-forgotten stores, he bought me a set of Rapidograh pens and two bottles of ink – one black, one white – along with a stack of rough paper in a variety of colors. Back on the bus, he skilled me in filling the pens and making that first mark on the expensive paper.

I still have the pens and a few of the sheets of paper.

While moving house recently, I went through my old portfolio and set aside artwork, photos, and other memorabilia for framing. This one has long begged for a frame. I only wish I still had even one of the few sketches the “Captain” gave me that he drew while on that bus ride through the South.

SHUFFLING ACROSS THE SOUTH
Zig Zag Wanderer – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Debra Kadabra – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Sketches of Life

Mid-60’s. Hendersonville NC. A small youth group from Binkley Church spent a few weeks at a migrant workers camp helping out at the day care center and small store.

While sorting donated clothes one day for the small shop, I found a denim railroad jacket and bought it for about $2. It was well-worn, raggedy in places, and I loved every stitch of it.

Back home in Chapel Hill, my mother was horrified by the jacket and my insistence on wearing it everywhere. I ended up sleeping in it for months knowing that if Mom had a chance at getting the coat, that it would end up in the trash.

I still had it in art school evidenced by this drawing (which I clearly romanticized by ignoring the tears and rips – it’s how I saw it), but I’m not sure what happened and where it ended up. It’s surely out there with the baby blue suede Frye boots that I lost somewhere too.

The sweet memories often outlive the belongings. Such is life.

Shufflin’ through the vault
On That Train – Jude Johnstone
Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton
Last Train Home – Pat Metheny

A flurry of words


Yes, today’s the day. Those posts. You know the ones. Almost written. Half written. Today they’ll see the light of day. You’ll get lots of emails. Apologies for that. Stay with me.

Thoughts in the Head go Round and Round

I want more from my technology.  In a strange way.  I know.  I, I, I. Me, me, me. 

I want it to do what I want it to do without spying on my every movement, or word, or reporting my latest sidestep in craziness to whoever’s out there taking notes. 

My coffee pot should make noises I choose to let me know it’s done brewing.  Like the first few notes of Day-O, or Good Morning Starshine, rather than an annoying beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. And should politely say “goodbye” when turning itself off. 

Siri or whatever map direction voice telling you how to get from here to there? I want to hear “Oh, girl, you do not want to go that way” -or-  “You better slow your ass down, ’cause you gotta turn in about 500 feet” in Wanda Sykes voice. The voices you hear should be a dialect and cadence like that of riding the back roads with your best friend. 

Am I right?  

SHUFFLE OF VOICES
Speaking in Tongues – Arcade Fire
Other Voices/Other Rooms – Nancy Griffith/Emmy Lou Harris
Banana Boat Song (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte


Wheels on the bus …..

A cold day in February 2017

1 year. 7 days. X hours. That’s how long it’s been. Longer really since I’m trying to sneak in and count a little piece written for Durham Magazine. Sometimes you get so caught up in life – the living of it, the recovering, the making sense of it –  you don’t have time to stop and organize letters into some semblance of sentences and paragraphs.  Seeing that of the last three posts, two of them are about my Mom and Dad is extra bittersweet.

My Dad’s death in December 2014 completely untethered me. (Reveal: flapping in the proverbial wind comes easy for me. I don’t much like to be tethered.)  This was an excruciating separation full of murky permanence. Holding his hand for hours, then one tight squeeze. That was all.

In a chair at the foot of the bed, and mindfully unaware through her own curtain of Alzheimers, Mom just nodded and whispered a slow, drawn-out “yeah,” her go-to response to everything, even death. Her own death a year and a half later on their 65th wedding anniversary was unsettling and different. She fought ’til the end. Determined. Unknowing. Unaware. At the last minute, she turned toward me. Glaring into my eyes. Now THAT’s an imprint.

It was a gift being with them in their end days, at their last breath. I tried to soften it for them. Making phone calls to all the kids and grand-kids so they could tell Dad they loved him. Mom’s favorite classical music playing softly. A long-time friend brought in a mountain dulcimer. Another with the voice of a million angels and a 12-string guitar sang Amazing Grace. Somehow fitting since my Mom’s name was Grace.

Kinda shaken and stirred in all that was the news that my ex-husband Bill had died. Sad that in a recent email, he hadn’t told me he was battling cancer. Our separation/divorce took many of our friends by surprise, the close ones not so much. He had an edge and I was never totally comfortable in the marriage. I had always thought/ hoped we’d have time to sit across from one another and make things right. Not reconcile, just stop being angry with the other. I was surprised at how emotional and saddened I was by his death.

And at the end of the muddle, there was Lindsay. As if I’d dreamed him up – and I had. An entire lifetime of dreams. A complete surprise. Bringing the sweetest love I’d ever known. And for the first time in over 20 years, I was a family again.

A friend nudged me yesterday, asking about Simmer2Sizzle’s radio silence. That’s why you have S2S in your mailbox. I promise to do better.

 

At a Loss For Words + Shufflin’

Fall Into Winter 2016

drawing of hand with a feather pen
Almost a year of silence. I wrote. Just not to you. Short words. Because those were the only ones I could find. The big ones mangled on the way from my brain to my mouth. Way too often I’d feel the “f word” form on my lips, swallow it back before it spewed it’s way out. It’s a lazy way of expression, though sometimes the only perfect word. I miss you. Make no mistake.  My long voice is longing. By the way, YOU equals the collective you out there.

I was sure I at least wrote poems. Yet couldn’t find one fully formed. Not one. I must have written them in my head with that invisible pencil I carry around. Now they’ll never to see paper.  I remember snippets.  Half things I dictated to my phone at stop lights, or where ever they hit. So there you go. Gone.

an ocean
of tiny rip tides
low and high
drown my face ….
tears.

and then there was:

A song
of slippery words
keepsakes of something
hot and sticky and amorous …

blah, blah, blah. Though I had to laugh at the last one. At least part of my brain was aroused. That it was something other than deadened.

The more you try to still your mind,
the farther flung it sweeps
capturing even the whisper of suggestion.

And this happened.  Sweeping down Erwin Road at a respectable clip:

I kilt that snake
essing in a hurry
across the blacktop
smack off center line
he looked right at me
with a slithery smile of gotcha
and for a second looked like you.
Too late to stop,
braked and backed
a time or two
just to make sure …
he needed killin’ …
and I needed
to smile
at something.

Gotta think for a while on what that was all about. I thought I was over that guy, but he rared up from time to time. Unexpected and always unwelcome.

Losing a parent is, well, nothing short of devastating. Losing both in the space of a year and a half is double that. Like walking in a giant jello pool of every flavor. Just getting to the other side is exhausting and feels impossible.

Somewhere peeking out of the loss comes clarity. Fuzzy at first, but something to hang on to in the rush of unexpected feeling.

………………………………………………………………………
ViolinNotesShufflin’ & Steamin’
In the Garden – The Avett Brothers
Turtle Dove and the Crow – Mandolin Orange
Carolina – The Honeycutters
Stardust – Rod Stewart