Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wedgie

This morning, my family is going to church for the first time in a long while. My daughter is extra excited and got to wear a fancy dress. While I was getting ready she came in to show me her dress, sandals, and hair, in all of her majestic, angelic glory. She was beautiful.


After she proudly modeled for me, she turned and left, sashaying with all of the splendiferous elegance that a four year old can muster. As she gracefully walked away…

She picked her wedgie.

Now…this is not a “my daughter is funny because she’s beautiful but still does gross stuff…oh, aren’t four-year-olds cute?” kind of post.

No, this is a “wouldn’t life be better if we all took a page from four-year-olds?” post.

I’m saying we should pick our wedgies.

I’m saying we should do what we’re supposed to do. Be responsible. Get dressed up when we should. Be kinda proud when we do – but not pompous. We should be excited about the good things in life.

But, if you got a wedgie…you should pick it.

I don’t mean be gross. I’m not talking about not having manners and burping and farting and scratching.

I’m talking about the absurdities that usually accompany decorum. Decorum is OK. Decorum for its own sake is not. Decorum for the sake of taking ourselves and the entirety of life too seriously is not OK. And when decorum becomes a measuring stick for “betterness” over others, it’s DEFINITELY not OK.

So go, get dressed up. Be excited about it. Have fun.

But let’s be real. If you got a wedgie, for God’s sake, get it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - July 28th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Ghetto Boys – Damn It Feels Good To Be a Gangsta
Wanda Jackson – You Know I’m No Good
Social Distortion – Down Here (w/the Rest of Us)
Velvet Underground – I’m Waiting for the Man
Bob Dylan – The Man in Me
Kenny Rogers & the First Edition – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)
Jeb Loy Nichols – Heaven Right Here
Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis
Tom Petty – Honey Bee
Steve Earle – God Is God
Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds – Shuffle It All
Chuck Berry – Maybellene
Willy Dixon – It’s so Easy
Amy Winehouse – Rehab
Amy Winehouse – Tears Dry on Their Own
Social Distortion – Far Side of Nowhere
Mike Ness – Crime Don’t Pay
T-Model Ford – How Many More Years
Scott H. Biram – Wayfaring Stranger
Dex Romweber Duo – Redemption
Johnny Cash – Time of the Preacher
Andre Williams – The Monkey Speaks His Mind

Background Music: Concord Music Group Original Jazz Classics Remasters / Summer Sampler 2011

VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR GUEST TONIGHT:
Oliver Benjamin, author of The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski and founder of The Church of the Latter Day Dude

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"I grew up years ago doing something that unfortunately doesn't hardly exist anymore, a medium called Radio." - Robert Stack

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse

A Facebook friend made a great observation in the wake of the announcement of Amy Winehouse’s death:

“Don’t know why I would be sad about Amy Winehouse, but I am – life is tough. And I don’t even have the whole world mocking me.”

Perfectly said.

Life is tough. I’ve written here about that simple truth many times.

Another of my friends rightfully pointed out that the news of the death of a troubled starlet shouldn’t take precedent over the horrific news coming out of Norway.

I agree, but in some senses, I think people are gravitating to the Amy Winehouse story for two basic reasons:

Number one is simply that we’re vultures. We’re shallow and we like celebrity gossip. Nothing new there.

Number two is that this story hits closer to home than the events in Norway.

A politically motivated madman does some awful stuff and it’s hard to wrap your brain around that. You can’t grasp the fear, horror, the pain, etc. Of the two, it’s obviously the more important story, but…

…a girl like Amy Winehouse flushes her life down the toilet and you kinda understand that. It’s not as tragic as what happened in Norway, but there’s a flash of reality in that one.

That one coulda been us.

I guess we could be victims of a Norway-like situation, too, but those odds are a lot taller. There’s a much higher chance of me ruining my own life.

Life is tough. And every one of us has some kind of problem. Demons. Secrets. Skeletons in a closet. A past. Addictions. Crutches. What have you.

And you and I don’t live an Amy Winehouse kinda life. We don’t have that pace to contend with. We don’t have the eye of the world on us. Celebrity gossip rags don’t sell extra copies when you and I get drunk or wasted and do some dumb and embarrassing stuff.

Try to live with all that. Try living with all that, especially, when you’re obviously already prone to self-destruction and addiction.

Amy Winehouse had incredible talent. She was something special. Something different. She was authentic (unfortunately).

SIDE NOTE: Speaking of unfortunate authenticity, check these lyrics:

“I don’t ever wanna drink again / I just, ooh, I just need a friend / I’m not gonna spend ten weeks / Have everyone think I’m on the mend” - from “Rehab”

“I cheated myself / Like I knew I would / I told you I was trouble / You know that I’m no good” - from “You Know I’m No Good”

Amy’s star burned bright. And just like so many others whose stars burn bright, it burned out too soon.

I want to point out; I don’t believe Amy’s self-destructive tendencies had anything to do with her talent. I saw Steve Earle – who’s famous for having his own self-destructive past – at a book reading/signing a while back and someone asked him about the connection (self destruction and talent) and he poo-poo-ed the idea. He said he knew just as many self destructive carpenters and painters as he did artists. He also pointed out that “the real badass of the Beat movement was Alan Ginsberg…because he lived!”

Amy’s addiction didn’t have anything to do with her greatness. But it does make this whole thing all the sadder.

She was an extremely talented girl and a special artist who also happened to be a human who had a disease. And we watched her. Watched her perform and watched her burn out. And clicked our tongues and shook our heads.

And now that she’s gone, we say, “We knew it” and comment on what a shame it is but that we all saw it coming.

It IS a shame, of course. But, back off a little.

Life is tough. You deal with it your way and I deal with it mine and Amy dealt with it her way. None of the above are probably “good”…but Amy’s just happened to involve higher stakes.

The tragedy isn’t that Amy Winehouse died. The tragedy is that she couldn’t pull herself up. She couldn’t get past it, couldn't deal. The tragedy is that those around her couldn’t do anything to help her do that (not their fault, by the way). The tragedy is that people loved to watch her fall apart. The tragedy is that this girl who had so much talent to share and whose brightness, in some cosmically artistic way, actually made the world a little better (as all genuine artists do), couldn’t deal with life.

Life is tough.

Rest in peace, Amy. Thank you for sharing what you could.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - July 21st Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Bo Diddley – Hey Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley – Bo Put the Rock in Rock and Roll
Rolling Stones – Hot Stuff
Billy Stewart – Summertime
Misfits – 20 Eyes
Muddy Waters – Got My Mojo Workin’
Hasil Adkins – Wooly Bully
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – There’s Something Wrong with You
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Little Demon
Jack Nitzsche – Last Race
David Bromberg – Will Not Be Your Fool
Charles Bradley (feat./Menahan Street Band) – Stay Away
James Cleveland & the Angelic Choir – Peace Be Still
Led Zeppelin – Heartbreaker
Led Zeppelin – Rock & Roll
Billy Preston – Slaughter
Steve Earle – Oxycontin Blues
Chuck Berry – You Never Can Tell
Grass Roots – Midnight Confessions
Rolling Stones – Dear Doctor
Pam Grier – Long Time Woman
Loretta Lynn – Fist City
Loretta Lyn – One’s On the Way
Buster Poindexter – Hot Hot Hot
Dex Romweber Duo – Jungle Drums
Dex Romweber Duo – The Death of Me
Buddy Miles – Them Changes
Hasil Adkins – High School Confidential
Social Distortion – Far Side of Nowhere
Rev. Lonnie Farris – Peace In the Valley

Background Music: Willie Mitchell – It’s Dance Time

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"There was no television, so the radio provided you with everything." - Ruben Blades

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

“…The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’” - Jack Kerouac


Normal is boring. Give me crazy. Weird. REAL.

Reality TV? I don’t want to see normal people.

What’s Paris Hilton done other than being rich?

Sure, Lindsay Lohan is “wild”…but she’s got no style to go along with it.

I want Britney Spears-level meltdowns from my celebrities; teen pop starlets with their recently-shaven heads whacking SUVs with umbrellas. I want Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton making out on TV and wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks.

The great (and weird) Keith Richards once said that when rock and roll reached the head, it was all over. Rock and roll is meant to stay below the neck. I’d take that a step further and say below the belt, actually. But, an element of the heart must be present. Either way…keep rock and roll out of the brain.

Throw away the cookie cutter and play from the heart.

The late, great Screamin’ Jay Hawkins would have turned 82 earlier this week. He’s a prime example of what I would call one of the “original Dirty Roots”.

DIRTY: adjective: Not clean or pure - Containing impurities - Not clear and bright - Characterized by a husky, rasping, or raw tonal quality

ROOTS: noun: Something that is an origin or source (as of a condition or quality) - The part by which an object is attached to something else

Dirty Roots is not only the name of my radio show, it’s the name of my world view. It encompasses my spirituality and faith. It’s also a label I apply to folks brave enough to live from their heart not their brain and, in doing so, chuck “normal” out the window.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins did this.

One of the things I try to accomplish through my Dirty Roots Radio Show is to transport listeners back to a time when we could be shocked by music. Not, “Oh my God, Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of the Pope” shocked, but rather…

Imagine it’s 1973. You’re looking through your older brother’s albums and you come across one with a funny looking woman on the cover. WAIT! That’s not a woman…it’s a super-skinny, shirtless man with long hair, lipstick, and tighter-than-skintight gold lame pants, hanging on his microphone, looking uncaring and menacing all at once.

The writing on this album, Raw Power, is spelled out in horror movie font that makes you think of the movies that show at the local “grindhouse” theater that your parents won’t let you visit.

You put the record on and the most horrifying, weird sounds come from the speakers, but you can’t stop listening.

That’s “dirty roots”.

Now, imagine it’s 1965. Your parents have generally accepted that this “rock and roll” thing is real and it’s here to stay. Nothing too scary has come of it since Elvis pumped the pelvis and those British kids brought the shaggy hair over with them.

The family is setting down together to enjoy some television.

And this comes on:



Voodoo music. Grunting and growling and screaming and gurgling. On network TV. With wild-looking eyes. In a leopard-print suit. With a bone through his nose.

You can’t see it in this video, but Screamin’ Jay Hawkins typically made his entrance onstage by popping out of a coffin. He played with rubber snakes and usually carried a voodoo stick with a skull on top that smoked a cigarette and had glowing eyes (his name was Henry, by the way).

And now allow me to call attention to the elephant in the room…Remember, this is 1965. No civil rights yet. Black people are still “less than” in the eyes of most people.

And now this one is invading the living rooms of suburban America doing THIS?

Watch the video again and tell me how it makes you feel.

THAT is how rock and roll is supposed to make you feel.

FEEL, I said. It's supposed to make you F-E-E-L.

Forget normal.

Keep rock and roll away from the brain and play from your heart.

Happy birthday, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

“There is no normal life…there’s only life. Now, go out and live it.” - Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone

Monday, July 18, 2011

INTERVIEW: Reverend John Wilkins

The Reverend John Wilkins visited Off Broadway in St. Louis last Wednesday (July 13th). Despite a horribly mismatched opening act (a guitar-and-drums duo in their early twenties, obviously living out their White Stripes fantasies), it was a magical night. The lion’s share of the audience was clearly there to see their friends in said opening band. But Rev. Wilkins made believers out of all of them.

Wilkins is the pastor of the Hunter’s Chapel Church in Como, Mississippi. Like his father, the Reverend Robert Wilkins, he answered the call to the ministry and gospel music following an early career as a blues guitarist/vocalist.

Rev. Wilkins combines the best of both worlds on his debut full-length album, “You Can’t Hurry God”, issued on Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess Records.

RYAN MIFFLIN/DIRTY ROOTS RADIO: John, thanks for taking some time.

REVEREND JOHN WILKINS: Alright, glad to be here. Glad to be here.

“You Can’t Hurry God” is the first record you’ve done. Is this the first tour you’ve done also?

Yeah. Well, this is the first full tour. I’ve been to England and Spain and whatever, but this is the first full tour.

Fill us in a little on your background.

Well, I’m from Memphis, Tennessee – where all the great musicians is from. My daddy was born in Hernando (Mississippi) and raised all of us up in Memphis. As time’s gone on, I’ve played in gospel groups. This thing here picked up in ’05. I pastor a church in Como, Mississippi, and the guy that was buried there…Othar Lee Turner, I did his eulogy. This is where this thing started. Guys came from everywhere and they wanted to know who I was and I told them and that’s where this started. They went and got cameras and guitars and stuff and there it was, you know.


Tell me a little about your dad. A lot of people know about him, even if they aren't aware of it.

Reverent Robert Wilkins was born in Hernando and as far as I can remember back I remember him playing the blues and stuff like that. He turned over into gospel music, and I got a chance to play with him in 1968. My baby brother played tambourine.

THE ROLLING STONES' TAKE ON REVEREND ROBERT WILKINS' "PRODIGAL SON":


Daddy's got a big, long story. The Rolling Stones recorded some of his stuff.

I got a chance to play with him in churches when I was a kid. I started around 13 years old playing in gospel groups and as I grew up then I wanted to play a little blues like he did. I started playing down in the Hill Country tonks and juke houses. I remember my mother came to me – she was real religious – she says, “Son, you can’t play both of ‘em, you gotta do one or the other,” you know. Daddy never said anything because he knowed that’s the way he was, you know. So I made up my mind and said, “Well, I guess she’s right”. I got sick one night down there playin’ the blues and I thought about that and thought, “Maybe she’s right.”

So I stuck with the gospel and I got a chance to record “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” with O.V. Wright and played for a lot of groups that played through the city. The last group I was with, I stayed with them about twenty years; the M & N Gospel Singers. We did a couple of recordings, “You’ll Make It Somehow” and “Amazing Grace” and I was there until I got called into the ministry. And that’s how I got to Hunter’s Chapel Church through preachin’.

I think your mom’s philosophy is a pretty common perception; the blues has the Saturday Night reputation while the gospel is for Sunday Morning. Do you consider yourself blues, or gospel, or both. Or, is there even a difference?

Well, I think what I does now is “gospel blues”. Some of my songs have a soul feeling and some of the music has a blues sound. But it’s all gospel lyrics. We call it “gospel blues” and I’m trying to do something different from what everybody else is doing; I’m trying to do something that will satisfy everybody. A little for the old, a little for the young, and a little for the medium age. So far, on this tour, everybody’s really been pleased and they come to me saying how much they enjoy it. It makes me feel good when I know people enjoy what I’m doin’.


You definitely have that Hill Country sound and got the gospel. Some of it’s very traditional, but it’s still unique and different. Tell us about your influences and what you put all together to do your thang.

Well, it just came to me. I’ve got some songs that I do that are in the O.V. Wright style. And then I’ve got some of my daddy’s stuff. I got some of my own stuff. I just mixed it all together. I’m the type of guy sometimes I’m at church and somethin’ new come to me while I’m up in the pulpit. I’ll look at the musicians and say “Gimme this here” and they go with that. Same thing with these musicians here. I’m almost like a creator. I hear things and different sounds and I just sit there and put it together, you know.

The blues itself is a big, long tradition and the Mississippi Hill Country blues is its own segment of that. I know Mississippi Fred McDowell went to the church you pastor and you delivered Othar Turner’s eulogy. What does it mean to you to be a part of that chain that guys like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside came through, and to be able to do it your own way?

Yeah, you know, I played with all them guys down at the Hill Country Picnic. Last time we was down there this year, everybody played together. Daddy always told me, “Son, play your own style. Do your own thang.” I know a lot of Hill Country guys play the blues, but they use the same key all the time just about. They do that foot stompin, you know…boom-boom-boom-boom. Well, I try to change mine up a little bit and give folks a groove, you understand.

And blues is not going anywhere; I don’t care what anybody says. I told some guys the other night; “Amazing Grace” and the blues has been here ever since I can remember. They still singin’ “Amazing Grace” and they still playin’ the blues.

Let me ask you a little about the faith side of things. I know a lot of people who would say, ”Oh, he shouldn’t go into a bar and play gospel music,” but I don’t like to divide things up that way. What’s your thought on that?

When I put this record out, I had some of my preacher friends say, “What are you doing?” I said, “Man, check the album out. It don’t say nothin’ about the blues. It says, ‘You Can’t Hurry God’. And what you think about that?“ [laughs]

I had to get my church together and let them know, this ain’t about the blues. I told them that Jesus said the common peoples heard him gladly. What’s wrong with a lot of us now is we’re too sophisticated, you understand me? I say, if you’re truly saved, you ought to be able to go where you want to go. If I was an alcoholic and the lord freed me from alcohol, why can’t I go in the liquor store and cash my check…if the lord done freed me? Now if you got some doubts, you understand, you ain’t quite got it together.

When Zacheus came to see Jesus, he got up in the top of a tree. A tax collector. And Jesus saw him and said, “Hey boy, come on down. I’m going home with you.” But, the folks stood around. The crowd mumblin’. Because “He’s goin’ home with a sinner!” I mean, where’s he supposed to go? He said he came to save those who were lost. Isn’t that right?

I believe people have got saved out of my music. I’ve had people come to me with tears in their eyes, their spirits lifted. They say, “Man, I’m going back to church. Haven’t been in thirty years, twenty years. I’m going somewhere to church.” And some of them have come to my church. We had a guy from Europe in my church. He was taking pictures He said, “Man, I haven’t been to my church in I don’t know when. But I enjoyed myself here today. Because you all is really down to earth.” You understand me?

So, I got my church like that. I got my church to accept peoples regardless of what they have on. It’s not about what you got on; it’s what in your heart. I believe you treat people like you want to be treated, everything’ll be alright.


I can’t listen to modern contemporary Christian music. It just doesn’t do it for me. But I can put on what you’re doing, or some Blind Boys of Alabama and I can FEEL that.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!!

The blues. I mean, like I said, it ain’t goin’ nowhere. The blues ain’t nothin’ but a feeling. It’s how a person feels. When Elijah was running from Jezabel, Jezabel was trying to kill him. He was runnin’ and hidin’ and runnin’. Then he sat up under the juniper tree and asked the lord to take his life. You know, now, if you want the lord to, why didn’t you stay and let Jezabel catch you? He just had the blues, you know. He just had the blues.

So when you lose your job, your children are hungry, no food in the refrigerator, you sit down, you got tears in your eyes, you go to thinkin’…It’s nothin’ but the blues. Nothin’ but the blues. Yeah, that’s all it is.

What’s next for you? Are you going to keep doing this?

Long as I can. Long as I can.

I’m gonna keep doing it. I believe what God has for me is for me. And nobody can get what God has for you or neither me.

Well, I’m blessed by what you do, I enjoy sharing it, and I’m glad you’re doing it.

Alright. Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy the show tonight. I’m just waitin’ and dependin’ on the lord. Whatever the lord says, that’s what I’m gonna do.

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO HOST RYAN MIFFLIN & REVEREND JOHN WILKINS

Tune in to Dirty Roots this and every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central). Listen from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net. Be sure to tag Dirty Roots Radio in your Facebook status if you're listening - and post on our wall where you're listening from!!! Invite your friends to listen and to join our Facebook page, too!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - July 14th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Elder Beck – Rock and Roll Sermon
Reverend John Wilkins – I Want You To Help Me
Head Cat – American Beat
Head Cat – Something Else
Bare Jr. – Brainwasher
The Misfits – Rat Fink
Moby – Flower
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Neil Diamond – Cherry, Cherry
The Easybeats – St. Louis
Reverend John Wilkins – Jesus Will Fix It
Rolling Stones – Prodigal Son
Rolling Stones – Before They Make Me Run
Social Distortion – Far Side Of Nowhere
Big Joe Turner – Lipstick, Powder, And Paint
Buddy Guy – She Suits Me To A Tee
Hasil Adkins – No More Hot Dogs
Monks – Monk Time
Reverend John Wilkins – You Can’t Hurry God
Harry Belafonte – Jump In The Line
Wanda Jackson – Nervous Breakdown
Perry Como – Juke Box Baby
Ray Anthony & His Orchestra – Thunderbird
Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends – Good Golly Miss Molly
Head Cat – Bad Boy
The Cramps – Surfin’ Bird
R.L. Burnside – Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down
Credence Clearwater Revival – Born On The Bayou
Steve Earle – Little Emperor
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken
The Dillards – Dooley
Bo Diddley – Ride On Josephine
Reverend John Wilkins – You Got To Move
Lead Belly – Black Betty (so nice we gotta hear it twice)
Woody Guthrie – Pretty Boy Floyd
Woody Guthrie – Vigilante Man
Marty Robbins – Don’t Worry
Ted Foot Pole Cats – Chicken Head Man
Hasil Adkins – Sally, Wally, Hoody
Hasil Adkins – Me & Jesus
Bottle Rockets – Take Me To The Bank
Sir Douglas Quintet – Are Inlaws Really Outlaws
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Woody Guthrie – Dusty Old Dust (So Long It’s Been Good To Know You)

Background Music: Booker T & The MGs - McLemore Avenue

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"I don't listen to a lot of radio today. It's not really music to me." - Bernie Worrell

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Renegade American Dream

That old feeling is coming back. Hard.

I hate that feeling.

That feeling that tells me I can do something.

Something on my own. Something unique. Special.

That’s what we all want, right?

Isn’t that the American dream? The real one, I mean.

To be a maverick…To take things into your own hands…Roll up your sleeves and pull yourself up by your bootstraps…Make something out of nothing…To master your own fate?

We’re told to dream like that. We’re told that we can be and do anything we want.

Those are our heroes…people who’ve done that. That’s WHY they’re our heroes.

But for every one who successfully traveled that road, its sidewalks and ditches are littered with the jingle-jangle of a thousand broken souls who tried and failed. Sold their mortal souls to the devils of whatever dominion they’d hoped to rule.

Riff-raff along the roadside.

There’s gotta be an explanation, we think. They didn’t try hard enough. They weren’t disciplined enough. They weren’t as good as me. Reckless.

So we scoff. From our safe place. Miles away.

Tut-tut.

And we continue to pursue the corporate American dream. Did you catch that? The CORPORATE American dream. The one they tell us we can have. The one that’s within our grasp. The one that’s reasonable.

Safe.

So we admire the few who traveled and conquered the renegade American dream. And we cluck our tongues at the poor misguided souls who tried and failed.

But we wish we were as brave as them.

Brave enough to risk.

Brave enough to fail.

But the corporate American dream tells us not to risk.

Dream…but don’t risk.

Admire those who DID risk. Cherish them. Just don’t try this at home.

And definitely don’t wonder what separates those who did from those who tried.

It wasn’t much. They were both wild and reckless.

So why do I hate this feeling? Because it makes me want to try.

I did once. I mean, above and beyond the usual “maybe I’ll get lucky this time” lightweight kind of trying.

I sank resources, time, and money into it. I put passion and effort into it. I rallied people to it. A few got heavily involved in it. Many did marginally. And it all went away; suddenly and violently. Because of something completely beyond my control.

One of the arbiters of that cheap-ass corporate American dream snatched it away. Just ‘cause they could and wanted to. Just like that.

I was determined not to become part of the roadside wreckage, so I dragged myself back to lick my wounds. I vowed to try again.

But I’ve never, ever looked at this safe home place the same way again.

And I’m left with such a nasty taste in my mouth about the whole thing that I also don’t want to try the wild side again.

But this massive thing is stirring within me. Again.

I avoided it for as long as I could.

And I was only allowed back last time because I promised to be a good boy.

I’m just not sure how much longer I can be that.

But, maybe it’s all a good thing. My eyes are wide freakin’ open now and it’s good to have your eyes opened, right?

It’s good to know the truth, right?

The truth will set you free.

But, the truth is…

The system is screwed.

Corrupt.

Ever’body just involved in ever’thang just for they own selves.

The big man told me recently that he’s a board of one…and he convenes that board daily to talk about how they can advance.

He’s got a gig that’s supposed to matter.

But, it only does to him.

Knowing the truth up here…north of the rabbit hole, I mean…is all way more truth than I want to know.

I often wish I could just do it over and take the blue pill and go back to being ignorant.

I know the truth about what’s up here.

And I know the truth about the alternative; I know what’s down that rabbit hole.

I know just how many shells of humanity currently make their pitiful existences along that road.

I’ve met ‘em.

Dealt with ‘em.

Fact is, I’ve fed some of ‘em.

And, honestly, I prefer their company.

Those are real folks.

Folks who tried.

Folks who lived.

Lived way more than the squares back in Corporate American Dream Land.

“Man, it's the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. If it ain't that piece of paper, there's some other choice they're gonna try and make for you. You gotta do what [you] want to do man. Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they're gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N.” - Wooderson (Dazed and Confused)

So I gotta try again.

But I don’t want to.

‘Cause that shit hurts.

And there’s still so much unknown.

Am I good enough?

Is my idea worth it?

Does anyone care?

WHAT . WILL . HAPPEN ?

And…

Will they let me back?

Whether it works or fails, will they let me back again?

Either way, I don’t want to come back.

If it works, I’d gladly look ‘em in the eye and wave bye-bye as the dust from my broke-down ol’ car provides a theatrical curtain drop between me ‘n’ them.

But if it doesn’t…

Where will I go?

What will I do?

Mama’s not interested in another trip down the rabbit hole.

Baby can’t eat anything I’ll find down there.

Most likely ain’t nothin’ down there that’ll help me pay the bills.

But, there is no dual citizenship.

No one’s gonna let me ascend from that hole and work straight during the day, while I plumb the depths after dark.

No one up here is interested in what’s down there.

I’m not interested in what’s up here anymore. But, those that I love are. And that doesn’t make them bad or wrong.

They don’t understand my draw to the rabbit hole.

They don’t need it like I do.

I don’t want to expose them to it, anyway.

SO, WHAT'S A LONELY PILGRIM LIKE ME TO DO?

Monday, July 11, 2011

To My Fellow Pilgrim

I wrote this as a response to something a friend wrote...but it seems to fit lots of other friends, too. I have a feeling it may fit more than I realize. No "wisdom"...just some thoughts...


PILGRIM: 1. A person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. 2. A traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.

To my fellow pilgrim,

I read your recent post and my heart is heavy for you.

I, too, am on some kind of new journey through some kind of new wilderness and am struggling to make sense of it. I tend to enjoy these wrestling matches in some kind of masochistic way, but even so, I don’t wish them on anyone else. These things hurt. They get pretty sloppy. In my experience, they require a lot of rebuilding afterward.

But I promise you, they lead somewhere.

I won’t presume to know where your path is taking you. I feel confident that our paths, while very similar in their effects on us, remain very different in the specifics. And I am fairly certain they will lead us to very different destinations. But, nonetheless, we are both on a pilgrimage. That gives us solidarity. A musician friend of mine once said, “We can rejoice in each other’s sharing of pain”. We don’t have to provide answers; sometimes it’s enough just to know that others are struggling through what Dr. Cornell West calls “the funk of life”.

In “The Matrix”, Morpheus offers Neo two options: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland. And, I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

People like us always take the red pill. Always. We have to.

“The worst prison is ignorance.” - Joe Bageant

However, sometimes I think it might not be so bad.

Later on in “The Matrix”, Cypher says to Neo, “I know what you're thinking, 'cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?”

Later still, Cypher goes a step further and tells Morpheus: “If you'd told us the truth, we would've told you to shove that red pill right up your ass.”

I feel like that a lot. I’m surrounded by people who don’t seem to feel the way I do about things, who aren’t bothered by the things that bother me, and who aren’t motivated by what motivates me. They seem isolated and numb. I often wish I could just feel like that. Why can’t I just be….happy?

One of our mutual friends once told me that this restlessness we feel is put inside of us for a reason.

For a while I believed that outright. Now, I believe it…with conditions. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure what those conditions are. Some days I’d still settle for a blue pill.

I don’t know the specifics of your African expedition and I don’t need to (though I am willing to listen). It sounds as if it left you in the same place that our mutual revolution left me. That experience itself didn’t “destroy” anything. But it’s led to a WHOLE LOT of shifting. Rethinking. Painful rethinking.

You mention fear, pride, and deep doubt. Deep doubt is gnawing at my bones. Doubt in almost every single thing. Disappointment is there, too; in people, systems, and beliefs. For the moment I don’t feel fear. It’s the first time ever that I haven’t felt fear in that one particular aspect of my being. I feel a defiant faith in this area. Not faith as one might define it…I mean faith simply in the “stepping into the unknown” aspect. But is this defiant faith just pride? For the first time, that possibility of being so immensely wrong doesn’t faze me. It doesn’t scare me.

I’m angry. I know you’ve been angry. I know you’re in a different place of processing than anger.

But, I’m angry that you have to go through this at all. Just as you indicated, everywhere I turn someone’s heart is broken. It literally seems like every person I know is engaged in an epic wrestling match with some existential crisis. If it’s not an unfair life situation (illness, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, betrayal), then it’s a complete and catastrophic crisis of faith or a forced redefinition of their identity – sometimes both.

I don’t know what’s happening. But something is.

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr. Jones?” - Bob Dylan

One of my goals has always been to teach you that life is tough; an unavoidable truth. I’ve also hoped to always encourage you – in spite of my potentially better judgment – to always take the red pill; to seek the truth and pay the painful price it may cost to wrestle with what you may find.

My other main concern has been to make you aware that you are not alone. You may, as you have indicated, feel isolated from some; but you are not alone. You may not be able to engage in the things that move you at this moment; but you are not the only one. Life is a journey and many souls take the blue pill and shield themselves. I do believe that some truly are simply that isolated. But, I feel like the bigger majority feel the way we do, they just can’t manage the thought of the red pill. As you beautifully said, they are “Trying to convince people of what we ourselves don’t even believe in.”

You are not alone. You ARE OK. And you will be OK. You’ll get better at these things and you’ll see the next one coming a little more than you did this one. (Yes, there will be more than one of these pilgrimages.)

Life is going to hurt like a mother. There’s no way around that. I wish there was. I wish I could shield my daughter and all of the students that I’ve worked with from these things, but I can’t. And the truth is I’d be doing you a disservice if I did.

You’re used to me saying I don’t have answers. They wouldn’t help even if I did. I just want to validate what you’re’ saying. And I want you to know that you’re not alone.

If I can help in any way, don’t hesitate to let me know.

I’m proud of you, my friend.

And I want to tell you that you ARE bold. You are bold to write about these things. Everyone feels them; whether they acknowledge it – or whether they even recognize it – or not. But, it takes a bold and brave person to share them. Please don’t stop doing that. Regardless of where we may stand in our faiths, I believe that the whole human experience is based on consciously experiencing life together; and the crux of that is being real with one another. This is REAL LIFE.

I admire you for tackling it head-on.

This whole long, rambling thing is just to say that. And that I appreciate your honestly. And that you’re not alone. And that my family and I love you. Lots of others do, too.

When you’re ready, pick up your camera again. But don’t force it. It’ll come.

Just keep hanging in there. You may feel like you’re in a corner, but you’re not. Those blue pill folks walking through life like they don’t feel these things…they’re in a corner. They’ve allowed themselves to be put there and they’re not making noise. Keep wrestling.

“I am a pilgrim and a stranger, wanderin' through this wearisome land...”

Eye Bags

There’s this guy I know, Marcus. Marcus’s got these funny bags under his eyes. They’re not the kind you get from sleep deprivation; I know those bags. If I had to guess, I’d say the bags under Marcus’s eyes are there from some kind of stress. Stress induced weariness. They’re always there.

Every time I notice those bags under Marcus’s eyes, I think about how I really don’t want those kinds of bags under my eyes.

Marcus works a lot. A lot. He has an hour-plus commute to and from work and he gets to his job before anyone else and I gather he’s usually the last one to leave.

I don’t really know Marcus much; our paths only cross occasionally. But I began to notice that when we did interact, he never, ever spoke about his family. I met them in passing a little later, so I know they actually exist. There are two kinds of people I flat-out don’t trust; people who say they don’t care about music and those who don’t talk about their families. A mutual acquaintance once told me that they didn’t trust Marcus. He didn’t know why…there was just that “feeling”.

Eventually I learned that Marcus met his current wife at a previous job, where he spent all of his time. I remember he once joked about how, on the one family vacation he’s taken in the years I’ve known him, his son texted “the entire time he was awake”. I understand Marcus’s current wife is a lot like Marcus. And I wonder when they see their kids and when they’re a family together.

I don’t want to be like Marcus.

But this morning I realized something.

I’m getting bags under my eyes. Like Marcus.

They’re not sleep bags. Believe me; I’m very familiar with the bags caused by sleep deprivation. They may be connected to aging. But I’ve seen plenty of those kinds of eye bags, too, and I don’t think it’s that. These have been there for a while. They started slow, but are now undeniable. These bags I’m getting look just like Marcus’s.

Bags from stress and weariness.

Marcus is what I would call a slave to the system. He’s working as hard as he can to get ahead. To climb the ladder. To become more than what he is. To become what he wants to be. Whatever he has to sacrifice to get there be damned.

Look at Marcus’s story and construct the narrative using the exact OPPOSITE of what Marcus is doing and what motivates him…that’s where my bags come from.

Either way, we’re all motivated by something. A slave to something.

“You gotta serve somebody.” - Bob Dylan

Why can’t we just LIVE?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Farewell Musical Doldrums

FROM GUEST BLOGGER, BILL WALKER...

A few years ago, I had come to the belief that great music was a thing of the past. Mired in a world filled with big-label hit-making inane artist, whose face and sexual nature is more important, and as easily interchangeable as their voice. The tonal differences between Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the like, awakened my audiophilic desires the way a bear might be awoken from deep hibernation by the slight buzzing of a fly.

I had given up. The idea of a great artist, one capable of pickling their emotions into music and filling my mind and senses with the soul of their art, had dissipated. It no longer existed.

To be sure, there are blinding examples of quick and fleeting greatness. Eminem, who is in the top-5 on the all-time list of hip-hop artists, was waning and hadn’t begun his rebirth. The Strokes had disappeared into the New York crowd. Coldplay, while perhaps my favorite artist of the time, had seen their promising brilliance turn into an echo of U2’s shining star.

The lone promises of artistry came from the old standbys – the Springsteens and Dylans – artists who found a new home after writing music history decades earlier. That music was brilliant, radiant as any their legends had produced before. Yet the emptiness of an untouched frontier hadn’t shown its face.

Three years ago came the first flicker of a new hope when Bon Iver released the irreplaceable For Emma, Forever Ago. It’s quiet brilliance -- Justin Vernon, his falsetto voice a guitar and a few background tracks added later – may have single-handedly made indie rock what it has become. Never has an album so entranced me, even the most influential albums (Hard Again—Muddy Waters, Blood on the Tracks – Dylan) didn’t grab me and swing me on my axis the way For Emma had. Nearly 100 listens into the album, it’s simple perfection and beauty still challenges what I had thought I had known about music.

Even so, it was just one album by one artist. But it had opened my eyes to a new level of uncovered music. Below the surface of one-off top-40 artists, was an entire community, an Atlantis of undiscovered beauty.

Pull up the lid and Pandora’s Box revealed the incomparable sound of Vampire Weekend, the sweet southern rock sound of My Morning Jacket, the dirty blues rock of The Black Keys, the symphonic harmonies of the Fleet Foxes. Like a newly reborn Christian, my eyes and ears had been reopened. That leads me to 2010.

I wholeheartedly believe last year was one of the best years for music since the 1990s if for no other reason than to see indie rock breaking down a wall. Arcade Fire’s claiming of the Best Album Grammy was as big a moment for indie as the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill did for hip-hop over a decade earlier.

But add in the near-perfect creations of Cee-Lo Green, Vampire Weekend, Kanye West (yes, Kanye), Spoon, The Black Keys, Jamey Johnson, LCD Soundsystem, Mumford and Sons, Springsteen (The Promise), The Roots and Eminem to name just a handful, and there is a breath of hope for music still.

This year, already, had given us some great ones and shown that many of those promising artists haven’t yet had their time expire. Fleet Foxes revived Simon and Garfunkel on Helplessness Blues. The Foo Fighters made the album they’ve been attempting for years. Bon Iver expanded on their simple brilliance with a big, arcing album. And Adele …… well if you haven’t heard Adele, do yourself a favor and find 21.

Hopefully, a voice with that strength and intensity and delivery, is enough to keep the doldrums of music buried.

Listener Submitted Best of 2011 (so far...)

While the numbers weren't exactly overwhelming, I do appreciate the diversity of the submissions! Here are some listener-submitted "Best of 2011 (So Far)" lists:

BRIAN FROM ILLINOIS
Adele - 21
The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
The Pimps of Joytime - Janxta Funk!
North Mississippi Allstars - Keys to the Kingdom
Tab Benoit - Medicine
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - Scandalous
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Revelator

JASON FROM ST. LOUIS

Big KRIT – Return of Forever
CunninLynguists – Onerology
Rusty Reddenbacher & Mr Kinetik – The Professor and the Hustler

DEWAYNE FROM KENTUCKY

Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two

BILL FROM ILLINOIS

Bon Iver – self titled
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Adele – 21
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Wye Oak – Civilian

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Laughing Heart

by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Best Of 2011 - So Far

I promised this list on July 4th, but I'm going to go ahead and post mine, so I can have some time Monday to gather up the submissions I've received from you. If you haven't turned yours in yet, I'd love to hear about your favorite albums from the first six months of 2011! Send them in to dirtyroots@rocketmail.com. Include as much or as little information as you want. The listings can be in order or not, and can include as many or as few albums as you'd like. I hope to hear from you!

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There’s nothing scientific about this list, nor do I claim it as any kind of “music journalism”. I just hacked out some thoughts on the albums that I’ve enjoyed most since January 1st.

The criteria basically came down to albums that came out between January 1st and June 30th, that I’ve listened to all the way through and continue to listen to, and that I share on my Dirty Roots Radio Show.

(Presented in no particular order…)


Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming

I first saw Charles Bradley doin’ his James Brown impersonator thang as an opening act for Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings a couple of years back. I was knocked out and hoped that he either had albums out or would soon. After some digging, I found a few singles that Daptone Records had out on him, but there was no proper album. Then I heard he’d finally have a full-length album out in early 2011.

This man is the real-deal when it comes to old-school soul. He’s in his 60s, has worked a ton of widely varying jobs, and has finally made his first album. You can FEEL all of the blood, sweat, and tears in every note of this album. Perfectly vintage soul songs about heartbreak, love, loss, and the state of the world. And, as is the case with everything released by Daptone Records, while it sounds old-school, it doesn’t sound contrived or like it’s just trying to mimic the old style.

*Honorable mention, a few months ago Daptone released Charles Bradley’s cover of Neil Young’s classic “Heart of Gold” as a stand-alone single. It's not connected to this album, but it is STELLAR.


Social Distortion – Hart Times and Nursery Rhymes

It’s Social Distortion! Pretty much the house band for Dirty Roots Radio! My favorite band since I was a freshman in high school. The group that got me interested in digging into what we now call “roots music”. Anything these brothas release is gonna be on any list like as this that I’m responsible for. (Read more of my ramblings on Social D here)

It doesn’t hurt anything that this album is their masterpiece to my ears. New sounds for the band, gospel singers on a few tracks that would have sounded at home on the Stones’ “Exile On Main St.”, and a Hank Williams cover. Wrap it all up in a Great Depression/Dust Bowl-themed Little Golden Book style cover and you’ve got perfection.


Wanda Jackson – The Party Ain’t Over

It should not be the responsibility of a 70+ year old Christian grandmother to personally keep rock & roll alive. But that is EXACTLY what Wanda Jackson is doing.

I’m pretty much over Jack White as a performer; the White Stripes novelty wore off for me pretty quickly and I never could get into either of his other side project bands. But I do generally like projects that he’s “involved” in somehow. (He produced this one and served as lead guitarist and band leader)

This is THE most rockin’ album I’ve heard all year. Jack White’s got that huge old-school twangy guitar sound happening and the horn section SCORTCHES!

Most importantly, Madam Wanda still has it. If you haven’t heard her rockabilly stuff from the 50’s (she was once a contemporary of – nay, the ONLY female rocker that could hold her own with – Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, et al.) do yourself a favor and check it out. It’d be an even bigger treat if you haven’t heard this album yet. Check out the old stuff…then listen to this new joint. WANDA'S STILL GOT IT! That voice that can go from the sugar-sweet little girl to wild hellcat growl. Mmmmmm….Perfection!


T-Model Ford & GravelRoad – Taledragger

Doesn't seem necessary to say much here. Our friend, T-Model Ford, a 91-year old national treasure (see the many posts about T-Model Ford on this blog) backed by a killer blues/rock (though that term doesn’t NEARLY do them justice) band, GravelRoad. T-Model Ford is one of the ORIGINAL Dirty Roots. This is blues heaven right here.


Broke & Hungry Records - Mistakes Were Made: Five Years of Raw Blues, Damaged Livers, and Questionable Business Decisions

If you haven’t checked out the great – and important – work that our friends at Broke & Hungry Records are doing, GET TO IT! You'll be a better person for it.

This compilation is a great place to get your feet wet. Two CDs of real-deal Mississippi Delta Blues from the north hill country. Back porch pickin' and juke joint stompin! T-Model Ford, Jimmie “Duck” Holmes, Pat Thomas, Terry Harmonica Bean, The Mississippi Marvel, and a whole lotta mo’…the gang’s all here…they’re all soundin’ great. And the white whiskey is flowin’.


James Leg – Solitary Pleasure

I once described James Leg’s voice as what Tom Waits might sound like if he gargled with razor blades and whiskey and was SCREAMING the blues from the seventh circle of the deepest pit in hell. He still sounds that way, but on this album (his first solo album, outside of the magnificent Black Diamond Heavies) , it all sounds more…”churchy”. A church where they sing songs about drinkin', hell, temptation, jail, and crackheads. Glory!


Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

This is the “countriest” thing Steve Earle has done in a long time and the first album of all original material since 2007’s “Washington Square Serenade”. The album came out at the same time as Steve Earle’s first novel, of the same name. Funnily enough, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (by Hank Williams) doesn’t show up on the album at all. (It was released as a limited edition 7” vinyl for Record Store Day)

Not much to say on this one…it’s classic Steve Earle. Awesome story songs about oil riggers, outlaws, God, politics, and his wife, Alison Moorer. That awesome twangy Texas voice. Interesting bluegrass “sounding” instrumentation. Can’t go wrong.


Various Artists – Rave On Buddy Holly

The most recently released album on this list (making it just under the wire on June 28th). Also, the most surprising for me.

I am not at all a fan of tribute records (the above-mentioned Bottle Rockets tribute notwithstanding). Generally tributes are done to recognize great artists, great songs, a great album, etc. My philosophy is, if the original was so great…why do I need to hear a young pup putting his spin on it?

About half of this album is "alright". The other half is GREAT. The two money tracks for me are from Cee Lo Green and Paul McCartney.

Cee Lo puts in a killer Elvis-y performance on “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care”. It’s so good, in fact, that it doesn’t even matter the record is supposed to be a tribute to Buddy Holly, and not Elvis.

Paul McCartney is the biggest surprise here for me. I’m not a fan of Sir Paul, his solo work, his work with wings, nor am I any kind of fan (brace yourself for blasphemy) of The Beatles. But on his addition to the collection, Holly’s “It’s So Easy”, he’s all snarls, growls, and below-the-belt impulse. I mean, literally.

You gotta hear it to believe it. It surprised me! And it sho’ is fun!

REISSUES:


Pearl Jam – Vs. & Vitalogy

Here is a blog entry I posted at the time of their release about these albums and the significance they had for me.


Peter Tosh – Legalize It & Equal Rights

Classic reggae from a former member of Bob Marley’s Wailers (Peter didn’t like the path Bob Marley was heading down…he wanted to be more radical). There’s nothing to call “Legalize It” other than a classic. “Equal Rights”, though, is the one that’s truly prophetic.

I’m not into the cash-grab that record companies call “bonus material” (if the artists wanted that stuff released, they would have put it on the album in the first place…back when they didn’t know “bonus material” was going to be an option). BUT, it had been a while since I’d heard these albums, so I’m glad they were reissues and got some new attention.


Neil Diamond – The Bang Years

I’m not a big Neil Diamond fan, but I do like his early stuff. This collection focuses on 1966-1968 when Diamond was making his name as a songwriter. As a performer, these were the years when Diamond was pretty much the Jewish Elvis. I’ve been surprised how well these tracks have fit into the Dirty Roots Radio Show. I don’t play them often, but they add a little something to a music set when played sparingly.


Sir Douglas Quintet – The Mono Singles ’68-72

I first became aware of Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet when the mighty Bottle Rockets recorded their “Songs of Sahm” tribute album. I loved what they did with his stuff and it turned me on to the original. And Doug Sahm WAS an original. This is a great collection from the fine Sundazed label. Some brilliant cosmic country here from a Texas legend.

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AND NOW....WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR SO FAR???

MOONSHINE

At the Scott H. Biram concert I attended about three weeks ago, I had my first opportunity to take part in something I had only heard about in country and blues songs up until that point: white lightnin’. Pure grain alcohol. Bathtub gin. MOONSHINE, baby!

I got to the venue pretty early, as I had an interview scheduled with Scott H. Biram. He’d just stepped out for some dinner, so I hung around the merch table until he arrived.

A bald giant of a man in a Hank III T-shirt, black shorts, and combat boots approached me and asked if I was “with the band”. I wasn’t, but it’s always fun in an admittedly snobbish way to tell people that I’m there to interview the artist. He was impressed, asked why, and when I told him about my radio show and blog, he asked me lots about that.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, he excitedly (and when I say excitedly, I mean, like, “bust out of his skin” excited…he was barely able to contain himself as we made our polite conversation) told me he had something I had to try. WHOO! I was fully expecting some kind of crazy drug invitation. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out something…

I could tell by the shape of it that it was a pint-sized Mason jar. And I laughed. Then, as he pulled it from the shadows and I could see it clearer, I realized it was wrapped in a red handkerchief!! Then I laughed a LOT. How hillbilly could you be?!


But I was intrigued.

He informed me this was “real good shit, not like that other rotgut shit them other guys make.” He’d even given it strawberry lemonade flavoring. I wasn’t sure. We’d just met and all…
So I looked to the angel on my right shoulder for some wise and profound guidance. He was nowhere to be found.

“He’s out havin’ a smoke break,” I heard a sly voice from my left shoulder say. I turned to find the little devil that resided there. He looked me right in the eye and very eloquently said, “Come on, man, just have a teensy sip… You knows you been hearin’ all them country music heroes of yours talk about this all your life! When you evar gon' have this opportunity again?"

Seein’ how the angle had no input and the devil was makin’ lotsa good sense to me, I figured I’d give it a go. Who cares that I’d only known the big scary man for a grand total of 3 minutes and I was about to ingest some kind of homemade illicit material??? He “seemed” OK :)

As I brought the jar to my lips, I saw the liquid…that seemed to have some kinda chunks of something solid floating in it (strawberries, I was sure…he said it was strawberry lemonade flavored, right?!?!?). It’s aroma was something that I could only describe as something quite like that of some sort of liquid you’d pour somewhere into a car.

In one last attempt at sensibility, I looked at my new friend and said, “There ain’t nothin’ in here that’s gonna hurt me, is there?” He politely assured me there was not…and as I took my snort he felt the need to tell me that, “Some of what those other guys put in theirs CAN hurt you though! My shit’s all medical grade…I’m really into chemistry and everything.” Into chemistry?!?!?!

I drank just exactly enough to get my lips wet and to feel a little trickle of something going down my throat. WHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My lips burned and that stuff lit up my insides! Yow! Listen to the George Jones song called “White Lightnin’”. There’s not an exaggeration in it.

I calmly stood there for a few seconds, waiting to lose my vision or the functionality of my legs. My moonshine supplier told me he was going to go outside and have a smoke. I stood there a few more seconds, wondering if my hearing would escape me, or if I should expect to go into convulsions. I didn’t…and what the moonshine pusher-man had just said began to register. I had to stop him!!! “If you’ve been drinking that moonshine, DON’T LIGHT A CIGARETTE!!!! YOU’LL BLOW YOUR CHEST OUT!!!!” I played it a little cooler than that.

We hung around outside a bit, me still wondering when paralysis would set in. Scott H. Biram came walking up the sidewalk and the rum runner wasted no time in walking right up to him and offering him some of his product. Scott laughed it off at first. OH GREAT…NOW I’VE DRANK SOMETHING THAT EVEN SCOTT H. BIRAM WON’ TOUCH!!

He gave in and took a big swig. Then asked the ‘shiner if he was going to start tripping on LSD in the middle of his show. I HADN’T EVEN THOUGHT OF THAT!!!

I seemed OK so far. Scott seemed OK so far. A girl took some, too. Her first question was if she’d go blind. (I thought I was being irrational in my blindness concern; I didn’t realize it was a legitimate fear!) She seemed OK though.

After all this, I suddenly began to worry about germs. I’m a bit of a germ-o-phobe and it dawned on me, admittedly late in the game, that I’d just taken a nip from a community jar! I thought for a few minutes and then realized that I’d drank 100% pure grain alcohol….that jar was the cleanest thing in St. Louis that night!

So I put all my fears away and decided to enjoy the night. I was offered more moonshine time and again, but I figured I’d quit while I was ahead. My favorite part of the night was when a girl that Moonshine Marvin thought was just the cat’s bananas walked into the club and he immediately walked over to her, with no type of introduction, told her he had something she just HAD to try. Any guy that dumb surely doesn’t have a nefarious bone in his body!!

I learned a lot about moonshine that night. I learned how the bathtub gin makers brew theirs and what made this guy’s different. Medical grade. Sterilized. All kindsa good stuff. I learned about the process. My man was a scientist AND an artist!!! I also learned he made $100 per pint of his brew.

I don’t have any grand moral of this story or any punch line, though the experience was fraught with them – for me, anyway. But, at least, now I have a moonshine story.

Yee-haw!

Friday, July 1, 2011

MISCHIEF: How Musical Studies Led Me To Goat Balls

I knew if I stayed up late enough, I could find some mischief to enjoy…

My never-ending musical studies took me this night to a most interesting find (they always do): One Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, a radio personality who broadcasted from the most powerful station in the western hemisphere in the late 30s (Oh how I wish I’d lived through the days of Mexican border radio).

Dr. Brinkley was a quack and sold all types of snake oil, but the most popular were those that promised to cure male impotence. And you thought Viagra was a new racket! His most extreme service involved grafting goat testicles onto a man's testicles. Said procedure cost between $750 and $2,000.

During the Great Depression, Dr. Brinkley became a multi-millionaire and owned mansions, airplanes, limousines, and a yacht once used by presidents.

And, with this unexpected education complete, I shall retire for the evening, dear friends. I don’t expect tonight can get much better than that…

I discovered John R. Brinkley’s story in the music biography “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone: The Carter Family& Their Legacy In American Music”. (The authors, Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg, were discussing the power of radio in the late 1930s)

You can learn more on his surprisingly detailed Wikipedia page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_R._Brinkley