Wednesday, February 28, 2007
28 February 2007, Wednesday. Morning sun, blue sky. Sparkling light on all the hoods and trunks in 7-eleven lot. Two older Asian women passing by just in front, side by side, engaged. The long green Transbay Express rumbles up Solano...clicking tumble of copier just behind. Reading one paragraph of Sebald last night: a small Rembrandt, from the Dublin collection--point of illumination within the darkness. The Flight into Egypt--Joseph and Mary and even the donkey, all unseen. Yesterday, with Hojin and Nathaniel--looking on the screen for site of the Battle of Austerlitz... Moravian countryside, to the east of Brno. A prominent hill, to the left of the highway...dirt track to the top--unexpected marker, cast in bronze, commemorating what took place: December, 1805. Google map, google hybrid, back and forth--towards some kind of meaning--also invisible. Dylan's face in the Scorcese--so open and immediate. Wanderer and gypsy--a shaman, too. Shape-shifter...
"And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain..."
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
27 February 2007, Tuesday. Blue sky with a few white clouds, sun in the east. Sound of bus as it rumbles by, whoosh of cars on damp pavement from yesterday's storm. Woke up with lines from a song...
In Scarlet town where I was born
There was a fair maid dwellin'
Made many a youth cry well a'day
And her name was Barbara Allen
T'was in the merry month of May
The green buds they were a swellin'
Sweet William came from the west country
And he courted Barbara Allen
He sent his servant unto her
To the place where she was dwellin'
Said my master's sick, bids me call for you
If your name be Barbara Allen
Well slowly, slowly she got up
And slowly came she nigh him
But all she said as she passed his bed
Young man I think you're dyin'
Oh yes I'm sick I'm very sick
And death is in me dwellin'
Unless I have the love of one
The love of Barbara Allen
Oh don't you remember in yonder town
When we were at the tavern
You gave a health to the ladies round
But slighted Barbara allen
Oh I remember in yonder town
When we were at the tavern
I gave a health to the ladies round'
Gave my heart to Barbara Allen
Then tripped she lightly down the stairs
When she heard those church bells tollin'
And each bell seemed to say as it tolled
Hard-hearted Barbara Allen
Oh mother, mother go make my bed
Make it long and narrow
Sweet William died for me today
I'll die for him tomorrow
They buried Barbara in the old church yard
They buried sweet William nigh her
Out of his grave grew a red red rose
And out of hers, a briar
They grew and grew up the old church wall
Till they could climb no higher
And there they twined in a lover's knot
The red rose and the briar...
26 February 2007. Gray mauve sky at dawn, light rain. Girl on dark bike, pale yellow slicker, darting past, down the hill. Across the way, 7-eleven lot--two bright brake lights on back of small truck--earthen green--man slipping on his boots... Gypsy days, gypsy Davey. The figure behind the song. A strong man in biker gear--sleeveless tee--Zampano--or, a shadowy figure, prominent and hidden all at once, that part of the self no one sees--everywhere revealed. A caravan, moving along a country road. Winter trees, one small fire--all of them gathered there, two on narrow wagon steps, others hunched slightly against the rain. Sound of some instrument--faint in the mist, simple line of a song. Budapest, Varna, Trieste--Almería, la Camargue. White horse in an empty field. The wind and the rain...
Friday, February 23, 2007
24 February 2007, Friday. Blue blue all across the sky--the storm must be way east by now, out over the valley. Air rinsed clean, slight chill...ready to go... Last night, again until late--Woody Guthrie--his wiry vitality. Okemah, Oklahoma--the Indian Territories--a hole in America, tornados and oil. Then the drought. "Dust storms hit, they hit like thunder. Dusted us over and covered us under..." Churning clouds all along the horizon, out of nowhere... The West Texas plains--Pampa--his uncle Jeff, a few songs. Heading west, by whatever means. Everything stuffed and strapped into an old Ford--if you had one--and if you had gasoline--the Depression, too. "Shows the damn bankers men that broke us, and the dust that choked us..." Sing what you see--his guide light. Sing what you see...
Thursday, February 22, 2007
23 February 2007, Thursday. Rain horizon--sky aglow with gray light. Soupy downpour just after seven--watery ricochets in curbside puddles, then a breather... Orange-red pickup with gleaming break light, 7-eleven lot. Another, a duller red, with dark windows, pulled in at an angle nearby. Ryan's understated delight with highways in LA--endless cars, each with a contemporary personality--waiting to be painted. The Pakistani man in convenience store--he has a cold. Night shift. World of mosques and teeming marketplaces--barley, hemp, millet...seeds and grains. Baskets of folded paper--cardamom, cayenne--saffron in tiny bags. A neat pile of eggs in clay bowl, one by one--raisins and figs. Narrow glass of tea, heavy with sweet, but always clear. Two men, squatting on their haunches, Urdu companions, shooting the breeze. Ancient bicycle reappears--Javed's back from the hadj--heading out after long night...
Rain again now, steady. Man opening umbrella--a touch awkward--under far awning...
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
21 February. Sunny morning, scattered clouds.
A Woody Guthrie and (much extended) family list:
Golden Gate Quartet
Ewan McColl (Britain)
Ruth Crawford Seeger
Irwin Silber (later)
Max Gordon (The Village Vanguard)
Blind Lemon Jefferson
many many others
Aunt Molly Jackson
Richard Dyer Bennett
Thomas Hart Benton
Grapes of Wrath
Ruth Crawford Seeger
Little Red Songbook
"I'm not a communist, but all my life I've been in the red..." Woody Guthrie
The Great Depression
Bound for Glory (This Train)
Dust Bowl Ballads
Talkin Dustbowl Blues
Folkways Records--early recoding sessions with Moe Asch
Lonesome Road Blues
Goin' Down that Lonesome Road
Goin' Down that Dusty Ol' Road
So Long It'S Been Good to Know Yuh (Dusty Old Dust)
I Ride an Old Paint
The Carter Family
Grand Ole Opry
Uncle Dave Mason
Woody Guthrie: Bound for Glory (Intro by Studs Terkel)
Joe Klein: Woody Guthrie: A Life
Apologies for this cascade of names. Think of it as the beginnings of a self-guided tour.
A beehive, a web of meaning...
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
20 February 2007, Tuesday. Warm gray clouds, billowing, heavy with with whispy edges, long sliver of blue running through in the distance. Alan Lomax book--The Land Where the Blues Began. River song:
I went up on the landing,
I folded my arms,
I never missed my dog,
Till the boat was gone.
Roustabout, you got no home.
You makes yo living on the shoulder bone.
Lord, we work hard, babe,
And they know we work hard, babe,
And they know we work hard, babe,
And you know you work hard...
May your fortune be as deep as the ocean
And your misfortune as light as its foam...
Monday, February 19, 2007
19 February 2007. Even blue to the sky, green grass matte across yard--all the new shoots. Three squirrels in spring attire--welcome. Buds on plum and Chinese elm--a wash of new leaves, set against twisty red-brown limbs. Every turn revealed.
It was there on your banks we fought many a fight
Sheridan's boys in the blockhouse that night
They saw us in death but never in flight
Roll on, Columbia, roll on...
Roadway high above the river, hugging the side of the gorge--waterfalls and ferns--sixty-some inches of rain, forests damp with dew, russet-topped mushrooms everywhere--more a warm gray-brown, boletus edulis--the good ones, open spore tracks under wide cap, forest denizens, solid in their stance...stalwart fungi--they belong there...
Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
Roll on Columbia, roll on...
Winding road with hand-set walls of stone--our kind of Europe--from sometime in the '30s--the WPA. Men at work at last. Also a blessing...
Oregon bound... 2.45
Friday, February 16, 2007
16 February 2007. Friday morning. A few layers of thin white cloud in the south--in sun-filled sky. Today, again--soft air of spring. Beautiful, even when one loves autumn best. Leonard--your favorite season. How could it be any other. We are what we dream? Or is it the other way around. Huddie Ledbetter as a boy, on the shores of Caddo Lake...that quiet expanse of water--the Red River--in far north-western Louisiana. No white people living there then-a world at least in part free of the terrible, on-going oppression. Betsy--late last night: "The horror." she meant it--straight out of Conrad. A horror of our own creation. Scar from ear to ear. "Some fellow tried to cut my head off." That was in the newsreel--with John Lomax posing the questions... They say his tuning notes were very gentle--as we heard, sitting there together. And that Leadbelly played best for children--they understood him. And he them. Endlessly growing--the fresh horizon... 2.44
15 February 2007. Mid-morning sun, warm, like spring. Ojalá. Last couple of days--reading about Leadbelly. Played at Wheeler Hall early in April 1945--just a few days before I was born. This from Phil Elwood, then a student at Cal, who'd helped arrange the event: "on a Saturday night in a 'large loft over a double garage in the fancy Claremont district of Berkeley on Ruble Road. I suppose there were twenty of us, mostly couples. some of them left-wing types... None of us were quite sure what was going on, but we'd been told Leadbelly was going to come and we were going to sing.' When they arrived, Leadbelly was already there, and 'he was in very good shape. I can't remember if it was 'drink tired' or just tired. He was seated the whole time. The women in particular liked him. He was a powerful personality. As a personality he was rather forbidding, but then I always felt a little nervous around people like that.'"
"Oh, the Rock Island Line..."
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
13 February 2007. Oblong warm gray cloud positioned behind upper corner of white bank wall. Sunlight, intermittent, to the east. Warm, now cool, now warm. Flash of figure as I glance up--teenage boy with fender guitar in limp brown sack...appurtenances. Like the tape from Katie--Hound Dog in Big Mama Thornton's original rendition. On a television stage, her gray massif holding the space in front of photo city facade--side men off to the side, the lead guitar player reed thin to her imposing bulk. He looks up, a bit anxiously, left hand at very top of neck, three fingers whammed across as he pulls off a rudimentary blues run. Modulated, reserved even--the ball is in her court. Big voice, yes--warranted, it seems--a belter, like Joe Turner...he started in a St. Louis bar, the voice already there... "Rain rollin' down my window pane..."
Monday, February 12, 2007
12 February 2007. Sun, but with clouds to the west. Stolid woman, late 20s, at window monitor, her young daughter tucked away on gray rug at end of aisle, alongside. Sitting with her head down, arms around her knees, head tucked in. Bottoms of her small jeans lined with several inches of lace. Worn patent leather shoes. Story from Alan Lomax--the black women in Mississippi--customs from Africa--how the women there were so much responsible for the agriculture--maize and yams. They lived close by the fields--to be able to take their young children with them as they worked. A pattern of necessity... Her face up now, fine brown-blond hair, upturned nose, sloping gray-brown eyes--agile little mouth, pulled in at the corners--one expression after another--inner life unknown...
Come on there, chillun,
Sister Katie, we got to go,
Sister Katie, we got to go,
Sister already gone,
We got to go,
We got to go...
Sunday, February 11, 2007
9 February 2007. Rain and gray. Yellow light under overhanging eve of Navigator Escrow...captain's wheel on curved-top sign... Figures in slickers and umbrellas, faces inward. Painting room yesterday--also rain. Deborah's black and white Longhi print, her tentative chipboard version right alongside. Sanaa--doing Corot. The view through Roman aqueduct arches--1820 something--just as vital right now. We recognize a touch of lighter tan--unexpected--under one of the overhanging curves. Another navigator. Ryan's murky Los Angeles--views into the distance. Hint of mountains, city interspersed...beginnings of something strong--heroic, even--despite the anomie. Lydia--her Prussian blue--now with a kind of brownish-pink in with the white--hooded figure. "Every Russian woman..." She expects me to know. Ivan Grozny, Kazan'--the defection of Prince Kurbsky to the Polish side... Anthony and Nathaniel, drop-cloth desks--anchoring the corners...
8 February 2007. Gray morning--parallel rows of fluorescents inside the 7-eleven, dark mansard shingles, stained here and there. Big brew sign, tilted coffee cup--paraphernalia. Albert Nachman plumbing driver climbs into high van--his two-tone cap--dark blue and white--atop a boney narrow head. Sitting inside the cab, crueler and coffee--shape of a commercial phone held at an angle--longish antenna--checking calls as well. Hand to mouth, fingers tapping his upper lip, almost in rhythm--like the story of Jimmy Dale Gilmore--no, Butch Hancock, their songwriter, driving a John Deere in West Texas cotton fields. "Lubbock or Leave It." His phrase--along with lots of others. "I was driving a terracing machine, working for my dad... So on that old tractor I found out that that speed and gear was the key of G and you could play any song you wanted in it. I got to carrying a notebook and jotting down songs out there. I'd go home at night and try them out on a guitar and they'd be done. In Lubbock there's nothing between you and the clouds or you and the earth..."
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
7 February 2007. Layers of gray cloud packed in like sturgeon sidings--trunks and gullies. Silver light hovering too. Three sea gulls--tiny against distant sky, heading inland before the rain. One or two drops--a herald... Last night: Iris DeMent's story again--her family's farm, a generation back, on the St. Francis River in northeastern Arkansas. Cypress trees, black locust, tupelo and floating willow--Dawidoff knows all their names--nearby the Cherokee Trail of Tears... A small hand-made barge, ferrying long sacks of cotton to the far shore, then by wagon to the gin... "..."What she heard her mother sing moved her in ways she wasn't prepared to explain... 'I'm so wrapped up in these sounds,' she says. 'It's more than music to me. It's a kind of place. I know about these songs. It's music where people are sitting and writing about life, the things they're struggling with and the hard times. They're about tryin' to get through life and hope for the future...'"
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
6 February 2007. White plume of steam against milky white sky. Plumber's truck with long lengths of copper pipe on the diagonal up onto the cab--no, it's a red-orange fiberglass ladder, maze of gardener's equipment, one plywood side pane along top of worn white metal. Mistakes. Inconsistencies. These things happen. Like George Jones , when his new wife gives him a white Dodge pickup for his birthday--he goes down to the Nashville(?) dealership, decides on the spot that he wants the green one as well. Twenty seven cars and four golf carts--how many vehicles can a man drive? And yet, his enunciation--the way he'll linger on a word--mining the meaning--wins over all. No other excess can compete. Like Rose Maddox, close in her mother's tow, belting forth songs at age eleven in Central Valley bars--Visalia, Tulare, Modesto. World of the fields, picking apricots and peaches at 25 or 50 cents an hour--that's when you become a band. "Let's sing..."
Monday, February 05, 2007
5 February 2007. Mist-covered moon, floating just above the hills. Edges lost in darkness. Morning: also veiled, sun just now pushing through. Woman in jaunty white baseball cap disappearing for a moment behind large green truck--amber dome light flashing on cream white cab. WM. Two guys in heavy work clothes, dulled fluorescent-green safety vests--one leaning back slightly, hands in his ample pockets. Just in front--the German doctor, walking carefully up the street, head tilted upwards, houndstooth, sheaf of papers tucked in close. Last night: Doc Watson and Bill Monroe--also a duet, Doc singing the lead, Monroe in high-voiced harmony on the chorus. Banks of the Ohio. Where the song comes from--two solid men, 200 pounds, catching empty oil drums as they were tossed from a train in Detroit--Monroe in his youth--but here, an almost delicate tenor, with subtle mandolin line--like a honeysuckle vine on a trellis...crucial embellishment. Sadness of the words...taken up in the flow...
Friday, February 02, 2007
2 February 2007. Bands of yellow sun pouring through gray clouds. A fan of light from above--as in a 19th century devotional. Last night: what is the difference between gospel and spiritual?--the first being the music out of Protestant evangelical tradition--African-American as well as European-American...where the spirituals are very much the body of song from the black South--out of Africa, almost certainly, with their sliding notes, call and response... Ghostly slow black and white footage of the Swan Silvertones--a kind of music with or without the sound. Then Turner Junior Johnson--harmonica answering each phrase of his wavery voice...young girl in a modern kitchen, close focus--song of praise, as she veers into ecstasy...and an inexplicable re-enactment--Down by the Riverside--a re-knowing of slavery--green chartreuse t-shirts, mop handles, a plastic bucket or two--in some church rec room, perhaps, the camera all jiggly, calls from the audience--laughter, affirmation. Their beautiful voices...
Mary had three links of chain
and every link was freedom's name
Pharaoh's's army got drownded...
Oh Mary don't you weep...
Parshas B'Shalach--this week. "And the waters divided..."
Thursday, February 01, 2007
1 February 2007. Pearl gray trailing clouds. Blond woman with bangs, muted cerulean coat--crustacean--striding up Solano, narrow black circular cord in her left hand, fingers tight... Another walker, more loping gate, her arms swinging back and forth with an unpredictable grace. Dawidoff on Doc Watson--Arthel his given name. Blind before he was a year old--something of a memory of the moon. But a life fully lived, down to choosing a dress for his beloved--by feel. Clarity of sound--as if he were chosen. So seemingly straightforward. So straightforward, period. "Like doing carpentry or fixing a car...," both within his grasp. But more than that, too, of course. How to feel the song. "...a large heart behind the words..."