Author Archives: starehouse

About starehouse

I am a musician and freelance writer currently living in Jacksonville, Florida. I was a onetime bassist for Royal Trux, 68 Comeback, The Screws, and Neil Michael Hagerty, and am currently the arts and entertainment editor for Folio Weekly Magazine. As a freelancer, I have written for various publications and media outlets including Downbeat Magazine, American Airlines’ American Magazine, BURNAWAY, Aesthetica (UK), Cartwheel Art, and Arts District Magazine. I have had visual art pieces and music reviews published via BURNAWAY, Arts District Magazine, DownBeat Magazine, Cartwheel Art, Aesthetica, and American Airline’s American Way Magazine. In addition, I also maintain a visual arts site called STAREHOUSE which profiles Northeast Florida, national, and international artists.

America, You Suffer from a Jug Band Deficiency

(for Luke Faust)

My great-grandfather on my mother’s side: Wiley Craft (April 18, 1887-June 14, 1972). My brother Tim (b. 1968) and I (b. 1972) were the first men since 1910 to not wind up in the coal mines of Eastern Kentucky. Yet I have owned and can play a banjo.

By the age of eight, I had seen Bill Monroe more than I had seen a dentist. 

I can recall going to the dentist’s office when I was four. I can even remember, after the cursory exam, slowly and methodically picking a toy out of the post-check-up toy chest. It was a light blue whistle, a weird accordion-like thing.

My parents were hardly neglectful. But dentist visits were just not in their child-rearing plans. That initial visit was tantamount to my dad paying $40 or so bucks for the dentist to examine the developing gompers of my older brother Tim and myself.

“Are their teeth all there and straight?” 

I can imagine my dad asking the dentist. 

“Yes? Good. Give them their toys so we can go home. The Wildcats play Alabama in an hour.”

This frugality was hard-wired into my folks. They both grew up so poor that “teeth optional” was an unspoken assurance for any familial social occasion. 

One thing we did get as a family was a serious bluegrass treatment. 

Every year, maybe more than once a year who knows, my folks would load up the Chevy “camelback” station wagon with some quilts, lawn chairs, chips, and a cooler filled with Falls City beer and store-brand soft drinks, and we’d head to downtown Louisville, specifically to the festival grounds of Bluegrass on the Belvedere, at 4th Street and Main. 

Some of my earliest memories, my actual memories of “being a person,” are of heading to these festivals. 

My earliest memory would be around age two or three, running through our new-yet-still-vacant home in Bullitt County, just outside of Louisville, hearing my laughter and screams bouncing off the walls and floor of the empty house. My other earliest memories are tied into the blast of banjos, fiddles, and high-pitched voices while standing on the grass, happy and surrounded by other elated people.

At these festivals, the crowds of bearded, red-eyed longhairs and hippie gals in their “Hey Grandma” dresses and tinted eyeglasses were balanced out by straight-up hillbilly folks. Middle-aged men in white t-shirts and bib overalls or jeans, wearing tattered ball caps emblazoned with “Beechnut” or “Copenhagen” logos, laughing as they leaned on the back of old, prime-painted pickup trucks. Countrywomen in denim skirts or floral prints, some with long braids of hair running down their backs; others balancing impossibly sprayed beehive hairdos on their heads; the country people appeared easygoing, sweet to the point of being meek…ostensibly their day in the “big city.”  

This was 1970s Kentucky. Everybody smoked cigarettes. Years later, after identifying the aroma firsthand, I realized that some smoked weed on the sidelines. People lugged around handles of Jim Beam and rolled or carried coolers full of beer. My brother Tim and I had to watch where we stepped, our bare feet careful to not step on the few billion pull-tabs popped from those very same beer cans.

If music is the universal language, these bluegrass festivals were evidence of that wordless conversation. People would bring their own instruments, and between – or even during – sets it was common to see some Deadhead-looking dude trading mandolin licks with an ancient-looking old man who looked like he had finally crawled out of the mines of Eastern Kentucky; at least for this weekend. 

Of course, I’m remembering this through the filter of 45 years and the recollections of a child. But it seemed like a peaceful scene and over the years my dad has assured me that he never saw a hippie-hillbilly brawl erupt in the crowd.

Bands played 45-minute sets on the few stages set around the festival grounds; for local or lesser-known acts, even shorter performances were scheduled. I saw and heard some incredible music at these festivals, only a lifetime later did I comprehend the magnitude of what I had experienced as a child.

Annual and much-anticipated, headliner performances by the aforementioned Bill Monroe and band, ditto Ralph Stanley and crew, The Country Gentlemen, the earliest lineups of New Grass Revival led by Sam Bush, J.D. Crowe’s New South (featuring a young Ricky Skaggs), the Highwood String Band from Ithaca, New York, and Boone Creek, a kind of up-and-coming progressive bluegrass band with Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Keith Whitley. Those were just the big names. 

There were countless spontaneous jam sessions happening throughout the festival grounds. Kentucky can get a lot of shit and is an easy target for “hillbilly jokes” (including those zinged by me) but this was the Bluegrass State at its best, honoring its namesake, usually in the key of “G” and at a clipped pace, trading licks over cold beer in a downtown taken over by crazed players and music fans. 

It seems like half of authentic bluegrass music is either about celebrating your life or ending it, but on a good day it all moves in a purely electrical, ecstatic direction.

Naturally, I only heard of much of these lineups and music lineages much later. Although I can clearly recall witnessing Bill Monroe count off “Uncle Pen” and clip out the lines, “Late in the evenin’ about sundown / High on the hill and above the town” … and the entire fucking crowd would whoop and go ballistic, some nodding their heads or clapping hands, others breaking into a full hillbilly-demon-foot-stomp possession. 

Early 1950s: My dad and some polyglot of his kin most likely in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky. Please note: another banjo and various “mountain-music-making” paraphernalia are also pictured.•  

That included me. The only time I have consistently and willingly danced in this lifetime had been at these festivals; according to my parents I stomped and danced like the one-generation-from-the-coalmines city-hayseed that I was. 

At these festivals, there was no backstage area. The bands would simply park their tour buses, vans, station wagons, and trucks to the side of the performance area. If you wanted Bill Monroe’s latest album, you’d just walk up to Monroe or one of his bandmembers and ask to buy his latest album. My folks bought self-released LPs by more than one young or lesser-known artist, albums that were jettisoned when we moved down to Florida, records that I sometimes obsess over, wondering if some later bluegrass or country legend had been featured on those recordings, back during their ‘70s longhair-and-overalls days. 

“Bluegrass sucks!” 

Adolescence brings new flavors. In my early teens, the experience of hearing bluegrass had become the equivalent of walking by my dad as he watched some 1980s’ country show on the TV, either PBS, local cable access, or one of Ralph Emery’s goddamned repellent programs. Besides, we had moved 1,000 miles away from Bill Monroe and bluegrass. We had settled into the life of beach residents, albeit ones who still felt like resident aliens.

The suburbs had burned the bluegrass out of me. Pre-teen years were spent aping the music tastes of my older brother and his friends. Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, and Black Oak Arkansas had led to Venom, Mercyful Fate, UFO, and Saxon. Those bands would stomp the hoedown out of anyone with leather-wrapped cloven hooves. At the very least, that’s what they did well.

I was slowly teaching myself how to play the electric bass, and both acoustic and electric guitar. If I plunked out a 2/4 country-style riff, it was to mock that music. I was more into figuring out that elusive “metal gallop” or the bend-and-throttle style of bass-god Geezer Butler. 

Eventually, I grew tired of, even outgrew, that early style of hard rock and metal. My teenage tastes were all about flipping through a deck of cards and the metal card was flipped away. Sixties rock became “my music,” since it appealed to me and, maybe just as importantly, my brother ultimately hated most hippie music. 

1976: In Letcher County, Kentucky, cradled by mother and protected my brother; dreaming of banjos yet to be plucked.

When I was 13 years old, my mind blew out into shards. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or as they still routinely called it, manic depression. While I was hardly gnawing on teachers’ desks or strangling crossing guards, it was decided that I’d be removed from school. I was conscripted into being a drop-out. I had a lot of free time, and days were spent wandering around the beaches. By the time I turned 14, no one was home at my house. My dad worked downtown as a computer programmer, my mom worked as a secretary for the school board, and at age 18, Tim was working for a swimming pool company. 

My folks would leave me a couple of bucks each day, so I’d either head down to Deane’s Books at the boardwalk in Jacksonville Beach, or just wander aimlessly, chain-smoking my ever-present Marlboro Lights and avoiding eye contact with every person, place, and thing. 

Located roughly seven blocks north of my parents’ house, the Bargain Factory took up three spaces in a nondescript strip mall on Penman Road. One part consignment shop, one-part hopeful antique shop, and three parts of towering, used junk, I could always waste a good hour rifling through the place. 

I always headed to the books first, on the hunt for some oddball sci-fi paperback or, hopefully, a beatnik writer. But usually, it was a glut of James Michener books or romance novels with that same cotton-candy-pink cover design. I once found a Pablo Neruda book published by City Lights, but after thumbing through the poems, I discovered that I didn’t understand, so in that case like, Neruda.

Sin, Sex, and Sanity, with its lurid yellow cover and a nude woman rendered in purple washes, went home with me. It was a classic of the ‘60s sexploitation era, a “cautionary tale” of various sexual deviancies in the American suburbs, that was essentially “word porn” masked as a plea for morality. It was a well-thumbed tome.

The records at Bargain Factory were in the back of the place, a couple of cardboard boxes that appeared to have been kicked under a plastic table. There were never any real surprises there; the same impossibly-happy-looking white gospel groups, Andy Gibb, holiday, and Boston albums that apparently infected every thrift shop.

•1986: At age 14, I was a year into my “experiment with bipolar disorder.” I was also obsessed with William S. Burroughs so I dubbed myself “The Tofranil Kid,” in honor of the psych med I was then prescribed. This was also the year that I discovered the Holy Modal Rounders. My best friend Robbie looks on, understandably concerned. I am here to say that both Robbie and I turned out okay.

Flipping through the records out of habit, I stopped when I discovered two beat-up LPs. The first record had a yellow background, stained and scuffed; with a photo of various crinkled bottle caps of drinks I had never heard of: “Moxie…Gordon Scotch Ale…SKOL…Red Stripe Beer.” Scrawled at the top in black ink, “The Holy Modal Rounders,” and at the bottom: Alleged in Their Own Time. In the lower right-hand corner, the imprint, “Rounder Records 3004” was printed in cursive script.

Flipping the album over revealed two black-and-white photos. The larger of the two featured the caption, “Peter Stampfel + Steve Weber,” with an image of two greasy-haired straggler guys who resembled most of my then-current heroes. They seemed to be leaning into each other, creating a kind of smiling hair tower. Ditto the lower image, with Stampfel and Weber bookending two fellow hippie derelicts apparently named Luke Faust and Robin Remaily. 

I took this and the second album and went to the counter to pay.

“How much?” I asked.

“A quarter,” said the old guy who ran the store.

“Each?”

“For both.”

I paid him, tucked them under my arm, and headed back to my house. Once home, I inspected this new find. Tucked inside was an eight-page insert, a “libretto” maybe, featuring a piece of frothy erotica called “Arabella,” by Peter Stampfel and Antonia. Also, in this booklet is a kind of stream-of-consciousness history of the band (also penned by Stampfel) and “The Survey of World Civilization as Viewed from the Head of Peter Stampfel” (presumably also by, uh, Stampfel). 

There were also four lists of “Heroes” from the 1940s-1970s. This list was the first place where I had ever seen names like “Theodore Sturgeon…Charlie Poole…Roger Zelazny…Skip James.” I had no ideas who those people were, and that list sent me on a quest to find them. It would be years before I realized how radical, and inclusive, it was to celebrate prewar country and blues pioneers with post-WWII sci-fi polymaths. Bands today might pull such a gimmick to show how cool they are; The Holy Modal Rounders were simply showing us who they were.

In my 51 years in this world, I have learned this: most any album starts out with the sound of someone blowing on a jug is usually going to be good. 

That’s the first cosmic truth I learned from Alleged in Their Own Time. That opening cut, “Low Down Dog,” kicks in with four forceful (are there any other kind?) farty huffs on a jug and then the band just falls in, a crazed shamble of fiddle, guitar, maybe a mandolin, maybe even a bass; really just a big, sloppy clomp with fiddle gliding above the whole mess. 

And then came a nasally, totally non-hayseed voice I immediately loved:

“Don’t you take me for no low-down dog…” 

A chorus barks back: “Low Down Dog!”

“Don’t you know I got my pride, I just want to walk beside you baby..” now these dudes are barking behind the singer, now joining him on the verse, “but you say, but you say, I must walk behind! Well, I ain’t holdin’ still for none of thaaaaaat stuff!” 

And more crazed fiddle.

In “Earth time,” this all happened in roughly 30 seconds, but you can’t really clock total transfixion.  

Relentless and shambling. 

My kind of institutionalized prejudice toward the music I had heard, really the first music that I had truly “heard” years earlier in downtown Louisville, quickly packed its bags and skedaddled. 

“Low Down Dog” had everything that I loved about music…that I had actually forgotten that I loved about music. 

Chaotic, unpredictable, simple, non-analytical – the Holy Modal Rounders were not out to impress. In the parlance of the Merry Pranksters, they truly “freaked freely.”

 Heavy metal had promised some kind of groin-born thuggery but that was all pricy leather wristbands and choreographed menace. The Holy Modal Rounders, this kind of countercultural-hayseed music, was as mysterious as it was emotional. 

If I had heard the first few bars of this album without ever seeing the band, I’m certain that I would have still had the same specific response: 

These are unhinged people playing old-timey, mountain music that many folks would rather have contained or imprisoned in those mountains. 

BUT THEN…

“Who will feed you peaches when I’m gone?” 

And that fucking chorus: (“WHEN I’m GONE?!”) “Your new lover may be cute, but does he bring home the fruit, my baby?” Now together again as one voice, “But you say, but you say, peaches make me fat! (FAT!) Well, I ain’t holding still for none of thaaaat stuff!”

I didn’t even realize I was an atheist and now I had found God and God still had 90 more seconds until His song ended. 

I could go on and on.

So, I will.

Any sane person wonders about their death, and if they were totally honest, they also wonder, just as importantly, “What song will I force my mourners to listen to at my funeral?”

My song is the second song, side one of Alleged in Their Own Time.

That song is called: “Don’t Seem Right.”

From the outset, the opening melody kind of peeks around the corner, looks behind itself, and then slowly steps into the song. 

“Shortnin’ Bread” on Seroquel in the key of ‘D major”— play along: “F#/A/D/ F#/A/D/ F#/A/D/B/A/B/A/F#/E/D” then to “G”!!! All in 10 seconds, and then…

“Well, see them kids / On the skids” … each word sung atop that melody so lovingly transcribed above… “Livin’ just the way / their folks just did / well it (G major, right now!) don’t seem right / don’t seem right to me (D major) / Well, it (A major!) don’t seem like  / that’s how it’s gotta be.” Stumble back to D and repeat, repeat, repeat!   

It was akin to F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, pushed to the breaking point and weeping over hearing Mozart’s music. But I didn’t want to KILL the Holy Modal Rounders – I was ready to follow these hairier-than-a-horde-of-hippies motherfuckers into the frontlines of the Jug Band Wars! 

“Don’t Seem Right” might be one of the more somnambulant protest tunes going, but, at age 14, it reaffirmed what I already knew and chiseled it down to its purest and refined state: everything is a mess.

People try to dismiss this truth, some are paid the big bucks to do it, but at the end of the day everything is a fucking shit show engulfed in black fire and nothing seems right. Then it is up to us to figure out some kind of religious, philosophical, spiritual aesthetic to pick through rubble that keeps on cascading around us. 

People invariably come to spirituality through pain. Then they inflict more pain on others by talking about their newfound spirituality. This shit will never end.

•The “Alleged”-era of the Holy Modal Rounders with Luke Faust—who is innocently unaware of the deranged future-teenager he would transform, let alone the mawkish memoir-song review he would unwittingly spawn. •

“Don’t Seem Right” rails against indoctrinated education (“go to school / learn a rule / come out the other end an educated fool / well, it don’t seem right…”) the certain crush of life (“look at daddy / daddy’s wife / old folks cheated out of half their lives /well, it don’t seem right…”) and the checkered flag at the end, the only trophy we will all win, our true entitlement (“well, folks are born / lived it all / then they’re sorry they ever lived at all / well, it don’t seem right…”) closing out with the rallying cry (“well, if you feel the way I do / why don’t you / start singing it, too…”) then the band chiming in how it “don’t seem right.” Hope prevails. 

Now look – memory and taste can pollute any experience, let alone the emotional zap that happened during that moment. But since I first heard “Don’t Seem Right,” I have played this song in every possible setting, legal or otherwise, when I have been happy, melancholy, during the ongoing “conversion process of playing the uninitiated ‘Don’t Seem Right’” and the result is always the same: a nudge into a greater, and thankfully ongoing, awakening. 

I was a frustrated child and now I am a frustrated man and this song deals with universal frustration. 

I’ll blast this flare even higher into the sky and claim that “Don’t Seem Right” is a campfire tune jabbing at bigger, occultic truths. 

When Christ acknowledged that his disciples were “not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14), he was succinctly delivering a “The World ‘Don’t Seem Right’” sermon. Centuries later, St. Therese of Lisieux cribbed Christ’s message as, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” 

She was right on the money. 

Why? Because this world simply “Don’t Seem Right.” 

Every great mystical tradition teaches this truth over eons of teaching, study, and disciplined practice and the Holy Modal Rounders wrapped it up in under five minutes. 

If Sri Ramakrishna were around today, he would surely slather himself with clarified butter and joyously weep among a flock of peacocks, collapsing into deep samadhi while chanting, “Sahee Mat Dekho! Sahee Mat Dekho!” 

“Don’t Seem Right” protests everything. It’s a ballad for not the fallen but rather the contorted. “Don’t Seem Right” is the sound of a single string of suet, plucking over every past and eventual graveyard.

Since discovering “Don’t Seem Right,” I have taught myself how to play electric and upright bass, electric and acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin and you can bet a bean-shaped organ that I have plunked out “Don’t Seem Right” on each and every one of them. 

While I am all knuckles on the keyboard, I have plinked out that main riff on many a piano. I have turned my Dad into a “Don’t Seem Right” devotee and during our acoustic guitar honky tonk duets, songs by Waylon, Merle, and old Hank, are always met with a rousing sing-along of “Don’t Seem Right.” I began sending this song backward through space and time, like a kudzu vine zipping up the family tree. During the pandemic, eagerly vaccinated and masked up, I would visit my father. I would sit a good eight feet away from him, and we would break out the old 1981 Epiphone acoustic guitar and inevitably sing “Don’t Seem Right.” 

I could slobber on about the entire range of Alleged in Their Own Time. The cautionary tale of “Voodoo Queen Marie,” who can terrify or hypnotize beasts with a simple walk by. The marrow-deep downhome moan of “Chitlin’ Cookin’ Time in Cheatham County” hits me right in my Kentucky solar plexus. Sung in that nasally and truly “high lonesome sound,” death-row stagger. Ditto “She’s More to Be Pitied.” 

“She’s More to Be Pitied” dips deep into that pre-electricity-mountain-wail and Carter Family pool; my Grandma Edna knew three chords on the guitar, and when she played it, she held it in some esoteric, sideways position. 

When she was a little girl, the family acoustic guitar hung on the wall and she was forbidden to touch it. So, as a child she secretly taught herself how to play by lifting her arms up and quietly strumming and fretting the strings. 

Can you stop for a second and process that? Astounding, really. I keep trying to learn Spanish, Sanskrit, Hebrew, etc. and I give up when the “language-teaching app doesn’t load fast enough.” Fuck all.

My grandma would play tunes like ‘Will the Roses Bloom in Heaven” and “Don’t Let Them Tear That Little Brown Building Down” – songs that sound like they were written 10,000 years ago. Let me tell you, she could’ve played the hell out of “She’s More to Be Pitied.” Maybe she did. Public domain.

Shame can be as complex as more desirable feelings like love and gratitude. Within those levels, are illusory qualities. Writing a love letter and once signed, you can realize you never loved them, even though it’s a great letter. 

There is such a thing as false shame, too, even guilt. 

Putting the noose around your neck for a crime you mistakenly believed you had committed.

A felony mirage. 

In that jarring and bumpy ride from childhood into early adolescence, it feels that, for whatever the world doesn’t blame you for, you’ll take the time to blame yourself. 

By the time I had discovered Alleged in Their Own Time, I had started the chameleon-like and perpetually self-doubting process of “being” a teenager. 

First I was “into” metal, then currently a hippie, soon the hair would be cut and turned black, for now I have “gone punk.”

The Holy Modal Rounders and Alleged in Their Own Time kind of cauterized and burned down this false belief that I didn’t like old time, bluegrass music. When in fact, I loved that music. Less than a decade earlier, I used to dance and twirl to it, as non-rock-star bluegrass players unleashed this music onstage at the festival stages of my childhood. 

Alleged in Their Own Time not only obliterated the shame of being, essentially, a suburban hillbilly. It actually assured me that it was perfectly okay, a natural state that was equal to any other; at times even greater than most.

A few years ago, after posting some mawkish and manic celebration of “Don’t Seem Right” I posted something to the effect of Steve Weber being a “genius” for writing the song. 

Thanks to the weird “no-real-degree-of-separation” that’s increasingly inherent in social media, my Facebook “friend” (the mind reels) and founding Holy Modal Rounder, Peter Stampfel, chimed in that it was actually Luke Faust, not Weber that wrote and performed “Don’t Seem Right.” 

Yet another paradigm shift, delivered by one of the key culprit shifters of the main paradigm.

Oh, this life.

Postscript: The “second album” that I mentioned that day? Have Moicy! by the Unholy Modal Rounders, Michael Hurley, Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones, a truly seismic release from 1976. That album deserves its own separate rant, but my blood runs full of  Alleged in Their Own Time.

But what a great day to be young and have a quarter in your pocket, huh?

Grimoire Mentis Emphaticae: Sigil Grimoire of Every Psychiatric Medication/Daimon/Augoeides of Which I Have Been Prescribed (1985-present day) with Lesser Rulers

A Memoiric-Occultic Account by Daniel A. Brown

CHLORPROMAZINE — the First Spirit is the Principal- Antipsychotic King ruling in the Southeast, called Chlorpromazine. He maketh thee to go mute. He appeareth round with hints of citrus hues. He answers to the lesser names of Thorazine and Largactil. He frees one from junior high school, ending formal education (grades 7-9) and grants the power to smoke Marlboro Lights in a greasy arcade that reeks of lurking salted and abandoned memories, located in a rickety pier. 
Hebrew Gematria: 936

CHLORPROMAZINE

TRIFLUOPERAZINE — the Second Spirit is the mercurial Duke of Phenothiazines, who lurked near Deane’s Books and the Crab Pot Restaurant (circa 1985), known as Trifluoperazine. He responds to the name of Stelazine, taking the form of a light-blue orb. His powers include luring one into home-schooling via the public school system. He negates most obsessions with The White Album.
Hebrew Gematria: 1165

TRIFLUOPERAZINE

IMIPRAMINE — the Third Spirit is the mighty Prince Imipramine; responding in kind to the names of Tofranil and Tofranil-PM. His powers include enchantment via Quicksilver Messenger Service; procurement of Thai stick from a man with a duffel bag circa 1985. Failing burglary attempts at a VFW Hall, one may attempt moonlight Onanism if the working of Imipramine remains unchecked. 
Hebrew Gematria: 273

IMIPRAMINE 

TRANYLCYPROMINE — the Fourth Spirit is a Jester of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (“The Irish Jheri Curl”) known by the aeons as Tranylcypromine. Pink, churlish appearance; also answers to the dry-mouthed exhortation of Parnate. He dooms one to the music of Ornette Coleman and grants tenuous power to tolerate others describing “Harmolodics” to baffled 1990s-fanzine creators. Like Psalms to an elemental, Bananas are anathema to Tranylcypromine. 
Hebrew Gematria: 1318

TRANYLCYPROMINE

PHENELZINE — the Fifth Spirit is the spurious Heart-Girt spirit known as Phenelzine; or “Nardil the MAO | IAO Cupid.” Planetary orange in color, Phenelzine grants one the ability to admit eternal love to an equally troubled girl while standing in a tent. Caveat: the tent must be in a yard, far removed from any forest. 
Hebrew Gematria: 692

PHENELZINE

BENZODIAZEPINE — the Sixth Spirit is a disembodied witch of somnambulance (“The Crossroads Sorceress of Pfizer”) called Benzodiazepine; she grants wisdoms as she maketh one forgets through gradients including anxiolytic, psycho-leptic, “genius-memetics,” and sedation. She answers by many names: Ativan, Halcion, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax, and appears in myriad forms; ovoid, round, fragmentary. Powers of double-vision and forgetfulness (“Prospector’s Dilemma”) are common. Lesser concerns include un-invoked word-of-mouth PR work for Kitaro and Jean-Michel Jarre to pharmacists. 
Hebrew Gematria: 1230

BENZODIAZEPINE

ARIPIPRAZOLE— the Seventh Spirit denotes the “softening of the names due to marketing research” and is called forth as Abilify and Aristada. Appearing as a hermaphrodite, Aripiprazole brings chocolate oranges to depression-support groups as the peer advocate breaks into spontaneous operatic arias during the smoke break. Aripiprazole is attracted to Golden Corral buffets and sweating in bed in the middle of winter. 
Hebrew Gematria: 875

ARIPIPRAZOLE

AMPHETAMINE and DEXTROAMPHETAMINE — the Eighth Spirit is the “chattering of the aethyrs.” A mystical chimera, answering to the names of Adderall and Mydayis, the conjoined forces of Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine bring the gift of unearned illumination and volatile hypergraphia. If carelessly invoked, both Adderall and Mydayis can enchant one to fall in love with a 1986 VHS cassette of a pornographic film. 
Amphetamine Hebrew Gematria: 289
Dextroamphetamine Hebrew Gematria: 828

AMPHETAMINE and DEXTROAMPHETAMINE

ATOMOXETINE — the Ninth Spirit answers to the three-fold call: “Strattera! Strattera! Strattera!” A lord of psychostimulants, Atomoxetine banishes cats, sleep, appetites, and common sense while clarifying delusions into 5,000-word unreadable dreck. He grants the power of self-abnegation in appetites and salacious longwindedness. A hesitant sort, Atomoxetine takes one-to-four weeks to fully materialize but once embodied in the circle, grants men the power to breastfeed and women the ability to ignore the cries of the mystified suckling-foundling. Verbosity, an indifference to sleep, and a thirst for fancy mineral waters are but a gleam of the bounty brought forth by this slow-arriving-yet-jocular spirit. Grimoric lore maintains that Atomoxetine sprayed from the body of Simon Magus as his body fell to earth: now the site of the Simony Pharmacy located near present-day Nablus (formerly Flavia Neapolis).
Hebrew Gematria: 690

ATOMOXETINE

BUSPIRONE — the Tenth Spirit is the sire of sobbing cigarettes, answering only to the name of Buspar. Buspirone is approached when Duncan Hines is in retrograde and He ruleth over 1214 spirits. He appears as a discarded floss-stick in the parking lot of an automotive parts store, granting one the power to ignore a torrent of psychosomatic cop-outs.
Hebrew Gematria: 536

BUSPIRONE

FLUOXETINE — the Eleventh Spirit is the ruler of agitated relocation and can barely be contained in the circle when called as Prozac and Sarafem. A verified trickster, Fluoxetine gives the power of “emphatically good ideas,” along with relocating to Rincon, Puerto Rico, and stacking a functioning television on a broken, wood-paneled console television. 
Hebrew Gematria: 735

FLUOXETINE

OLANZAPINE — the Twelfth Spirit is a first-line spirit named Zyprexa, appearing either fully invisible or as a monocle-wearing owl who smokes a bubble pipe, and rules over a congregation of lesser atypical anti-pneumatic spirits.  The “last of the harsh-sounding spirits,” Olanzapine keeps one safely in home, secure from the Federal Bureau of Invisibility; allows one to climb the courtyard of a closed bank without attracting mosquitos; be gifted with the ability to drive a stick-shift (once), and eat cold taco meat over the kitchen sink with no need of lamp or flame-light. In the grand theurgical tradition, Zyprexa is a fickle daemon most foul. While one may gain inner wisdom, one should also expect weight gain, no improvement of psychomotor retardation, hand tremors, foot glimmers, and lessening discernment in the ability to identify what is chthonic beings with merely cocaine psychosis [documented in The Frogs They Chanted, “Without Wait, Without Wait” from a Palm Valley Pond; Niels Vallè; 1836]
 Hebrew Gematria: 726

OLANZAPINE

CITALOPRAM — the Thirteenth Spirit is a secondary spirit invoked as Celexa.Lording over 20 sub-spirits, he grants the power to shoplift an industrial-size container of lampreys from an Alabama salvage store, control the direction of thrips, and make a melancholy rat somewhat less melancholy. 
Hebrew Gematria: 354

CITALOPRAM

DULOXETINE — is the Fourteenth Spirit and lord of the infant class of spirits and appears as Cymbalta. A swindler spirit, he will trade priapism for polyuria, and his assistance is hindered by making one suspiciously sweat in bank lines, pharmacies, and department store changing rooms. Duloxetine disappears as he arrives: as a mandala of cockroaches.
Hebrew Gematria: 733

DULOXETINE

VALPROATE — the Fifteenth Spirit rules over a legion of one thousand subservient off-label spirits and is called forth as Depakote. The only known spirit with a myrrh allergy, she brings fallow fields to abundant harvest, appears in visions as holding ice in each hand while rising from the sea, and allows the mage the power to cry only four times within twenty-three years; no more, no less. 
Hebrew Gematria: 1017

VALPROATE

ISOCARBOXAZID — is the Sixteenth Spirit and invoked as MarplanMarplon, and Enerzer. An ancient chthonic gate-keeper spirit, Isocarboxazid takes stubborn residence under a picnic table at Lake Jericho in Smithfield, Kentucky and appears as fireflies. Successful invocation is confirmed by the sound of the music of Don Williams within the third ear and a temperature drop in cracked, empty fish aquariums.
Hebrew Gematria: 1099

ISOCARBOXAZID

VENLAFAXINE — the Seventeenth Spirit is called as Effexor and appears as a rusty bicycle in the woods (Note: in previous grimoires, Venlafaxine takes the form of a penny-farthing compromised of skulls or a Scottish Rites pogo-stick). In cases of resistant somnambulance, envelopes from creditors change color from white, to pink, to yellow, and so forth. Beneficent powers include the Power of the Blind-Eye, and the banishing of excessive Grateful Dead podcasts. 
Hebrew Gematria: 1127

VENLAFAXINE

LAMOTRIGINE — the Eighteenth Spirit first appears as a vision of a 1970s Kiddierama Theatre coin-operated animation vending machine and answers to the call of Lamictal. The rare spirit that rules over thirty dominions while affecting both the prefrontal lobe, pineal gland, perineum, and other alliterative and hindering, flesh-tethered parts of the “hermetic booty.” Lamictal grants the power to improve one’s forgetfulness in increasing the magician’s obliviousness to ever being aware of forgetting anything. A tandem power to prevent convulsions (“Headlock of the Hidden Gods”) is offset with the power to form a rock band called The Agram Tooth and flood the music community with a glut of cassette-only releases wrapped in baby doll hair and blue candle wax.
Hebrew Gematria: 351

LAMOTRIGINE

MIRTAZAPINE — the Nineteenth Spirit is Remeron. A late-arriving servant, a fortnight may pass before Mirtazapine arrives to aid one’s troubles. Appearing in the mouth and vibrating in the gullet chakra, this feisty spirit has the power to raise the prescription pad from a pain management physician, “as a Tulpa brought forth from the Tibet-yan’s barbaric fluting” (– Z. Woollacott, 1913; “Incident in Tib-yet.”) If unattended, one will awake in disorientation, in a dimly-lit room teeming with half-consumed cans of cola, walls covered in carpet.   
Hebrew Gematria: 835

MIRTAZAPINE

QUETIAPINE — the Twentieth Spirit is called forth as Seroquel and is a watchtower spirit. Arriving as a vision of a field of wheat; a blue sky; sun’s fire on one’s face; and a melodious cross-breeze, this “queller of intrigue” languidly provides all answers to unwanted questions and grants the power to complete all crossword puzzles—in ink pen, no less and grants one the lifelong boon to never own a pet too large so that one cannot kill said beast with one’s own bare hands. 
Hebrew Gematria: 499

QUETIAPINE

CARBAMAZEPINE — the Twenty-First spirit is indifferent to names and arrives if invoked as Tegretol, Equetro, Epitol, Tegretol XR, Carbamazepine Chewtabs, Carbamazepine CR, Carbatrol, Teril, or Carnexiv. Successful summoning is denoted by eye tremors and a bout of hypoglycemia during a screening of the film Jacob’s Ladder. A princess of fauna, Carbamazepine is known to take the form of an invasive species known as dioscorea bulbifer; colloquially known as the “air potato”—not to be confused with the Indianmeal moth (plodia interpunctella) or, “air monkey.” Granted powers include avoiding imagined assassination attempts, protection from paraffin in all forms, and the superhuman ability to eat vast meals.
Hebrew Gematria: 737

CARBAMAZEPINE

ESCITALOPRAM — the Twenty-Second spirit is a chattering interlocutor and called forth from the abyss by the names Lexapro and Cipralex. Her arrival is marked by a temperature increase in the temple, a soft melodious penny-whistle tune “heard” in the molars, and via excreta of sour water through the glands. She transmits her answers through repeated coincidences of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” playing on FM radio, during the arrival of the “red tide” algal bloom in the ocean. She grants the powers of remote viewing of small electronic devices in pawn shops and the shared vision of the Sabbatic Solar Cycle: “What I will buy when I win that lottery.”
Hebrew Gematria: 449

ESCITALOPRAM

LITHIUM — the Twenty-Third spirit is the Duke of Principalities of the dry-tongue and tight-fitting denim and is conjured thorough the names of Priadel, Camcolit and Liskonium, Eskalith, Eskalith-CR, and Lithobid. Lithium appears as a small child composed of chrome who wears a garland of forgotten ideas around its neck. The power of general thought-placation is granted within weeks, conjoined with a [hopefully] false memory of masturbating in the bathroom of a 1991 mental hospital; polyuria, and coming home after a secondary suicide attempt in the form of breaking down sobbing while listening to the outro of Brian Eno’s “The True Wheel,” and the subsequent crying a total of four times for the next 20 years.
Hebrew Gematria: 376

LITHIUM

GABAPENTIN — the Twenty-Fourth spirit is called Neurontin and is a mercurial figure in various grimoires. Neuralgia is lessened and one is also granted the power to drug one’s cat with this spirit to give the mesmerized feline a highly reluctant bath. The Pseudomonarchia Delirium of Gailard Sartain of München [1716] describes Gabapentin appearing as a cascading tower of boiled peanuts, expired prescriptions, and menthol cigarettes lighting and extinguishing themselves in alternating sequence. Powers granted include a reduction in focal seizures and an increase in flirting with a nurse in the ICU, whilst restrained to a hospital gurney and realizing that happiness is a divine birthright.
Hebrew Gematria: 265

GABAPENTIN

PAROXETINE — the Twenty-Fifth spirit is invoked by the names of Paxil and Seroxat and assists in maladies including depression, bipolar depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, H.R. Giger wheeze, and falling in love with a woman who is inconveniently married with a recently-paroled frontline foot-soldier of the Aryan Brotherhood, but she really wants you to “check out her new band’s demo.” Paroxetine takes the form of electrical zaps in the central nervous system, followed by spontaneous sobbing while watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind; this spirit rules a dominion of four counterfeit watchtower angels who take form as Maine Coon cats wearing 1980s new-wave eyewear and garish spats. 
Hebrew Gematria: 650

PAROXETINE

RISPERIDONE — the Twenty-Sixth spirit answers to Risperdal and boasts rulership over some four million failed ceramicists of the elemental variety. The Renaissance goetic sorcerer and insufferable manick-depressive Loggia Sinforia (1512-1567) wrote a controversial treatise on the volatile evocation of Risperdal, arguing the merits of allowing the spirit to enter the host-body fully. Sinforia argued that such an arrangement allowed one to expertly bow a trombone and command pigs to protect the magician through the use of a handcrafted fipple flute, or flageolet. To create the Risperdal Fipple Flute, a discarded toilet paper roll is punctured with the antler of a Tibetan pygmy yak, then buried in wet soil during a “fool’s moon,” while being seen by no one during the digging, burial, and retrieval. This magical implement is not to be confused with secular toilet paper fipple: the “dur-dur.”
 
Hebrew Gematria: 432

RISPERIDONE

SERTRALINE — the Twenty-Seventh spirit is beckoned through the name of Zoloftand rules over a legion of plush-toy demiurges and is the only pure IAO Inhibitor in this spirit-catalog. A spirit attracted to the bucolique de banlieue (translated: suburban bucolic), Sertraline appears as a neglected fig tree, boasting rotten fig pods recognizable by their sickly-sweet aroma. Sertraline and her demiurgic multitudes grant the power of hiding half-smoked joints in dental-floss boxes, concealing faith-based pornographic magazines within one’s clothing, and the ability to alienate friends and family with emphatic and argumentative opinions; views wholly uninformed yet fully opinionated. Such are the words.
Hebrew Gematria: 430

SERTRALINE

ASENAPINE — the Twenty-Eighth spirit reluctantly arrives by the name of Saphris. In the Vajrayana tradition, Saphris appears as a jewel-encrusted ox; in the Western esoteric schools, her presence is verified by the sound of a pickup truck door being repeatedly slammed, the poignant call of a train at 4 a.m., and a memory of nearly burning one’s metal-shop teacher with an acetylene torch while being blinded from donning grease-smeared plastic goggles. Saphris grants the power to quickly carry a small dog down the antiseptic hallways of a convalescent center, to turn old folding money into lurid origami, and to draw the face of William Butler Yeats in the condensation of a cold, damp window. 
 
Hebrew Gematria: 251

ASENAPINE

CARIPRAZINE — the Twenty-Ninth is brought forth through the intoning of the “barbarous names”: Vraylar and Reagila. This spirit rules over all 341 sub-elementals and grants the power to refrain from espousing utterances such as, “I take agency over my light-body…I am taking a posture of authenticity.” Cariprazine assists one in the etheric realm, and grants the powers of merciless expulsion of Astral Voyeurs. Contact with the arrival of Cariprazine is verified by flickering lamps, feverish symptoms, sweatiness and nausea (“The Roiling Paraclete”), and the overwhelming urge to propose marriage to a group of seals located in a remote Scottish loch via the practice of Seal Kasina. 
Hebrew Gematria: 788

CARIPRAZINE

TRAZODONE — the Thirtieth spirit arrives when addressed as Desyrel, Desyrel Dividose, Molipaxin, Oleptro, Trazodone D. Judicious care must be taken when dealing with Trazodone: when visible to the human eye, this spirit (who lords over the Typhonian sleep elementals) may faintly appearing as a shimmering and luminous mallet. Trazodone’s main boon is the power to grant one a deep, unending rest; the abyss of the manifest and unmanifest, the dreamless sleep. [See also The Prajna of the Scurrilous Hindoo, Father Kipyard Rudling; 1903]. While not a certified trickster spirit, Trazodone can lure the conjurer into sleeping for hours, days, weeks, or even while reading this far into this paragraph.
Hebrew Gematria: 830

TRAZODONE

BUPROPION – the Thirty-First spirit is named Wellbutrin and Zyban. One of the youngest spirits cataloged in this grimoire, Bupropion borrows its name from the famous priapic angel of the Chaldean papyri. Legend has it that the final king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (Nabonidus: b.620–615 BCE; d. 539 BCE) warned of the Aeon of Zyban; thankfully his fears are unfounded. Once successfully invoked, Bupropion grants the power of tobacco cessation, wards off needy men walking around with parrots on their shoulders and yellow boa constrictors draped around their necks, and “a surfeit of gnosis in regards to the late-1960s music of Albert King.” Most encouragingly, the potential side effects of Bupropion are limited to anxiety, constipation, dry mouth, excessive sweating, insomnia, liver toxicity, nausea, psychosis, “slow-eye,” tremor, and accidental death. 

 

Hebrew Gematria: 551

BUPROPION

Look Down the Road

Songwriter Frank Lindamood keeps moving forward by traveling along the roots of old time American music

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(Frank Lindamood performing at the Florida Folk Festival. All photos by Erica La Spada.)

Located roughly 50 miles south of Tallahassee, Florida sits the town of Sopchoppy. Embedded in the ancient expanse of the Apalachicola National Forest, cursory research on Sopchoppy reveals that the population tops out at around 400. The place is also known for something called the Worm Grunting Festival, a kind of celebration based on divining worms from the ground. Between the surrounding forest and seclusion, lack of other humans, and an ongoing vestigial, possibly pagan rite exulting annelids, Sopchoppy sounds like my kind of place. The fact that it’s also the longtime home of one of the surely best regional folk-songwriters in the Southeast only sweetens the deal. It’s also the current home of Frank Lindamood.

For most people, Lindamood’s name won’t appear in the pop cultural canon or the blinding, distracted social media feed.Hell, he’s probably not a celebrity in Sopchoppy. But Lindamood is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic, and original, songwriters working in what could be described as the contemporary folk scene.

My girlfriend, Erica, first introduced me to Lindamood’s music three or four years ago. She gave me little if any preamble before hitting play on her iPod, other than that the guy’s music was pretty damn intense and was somehow tied in to “Florida Folk.” Admittedly, my genetic level of knee-jerk cynicism was steeled for the sound of some wavering voice commemorating an unforgettable mid-‘70s coastal sunset or a baleful threnody about our lack of recycling. Instead, I was met by the sound of a rolling steel guitar, all esoteric chords rippling across minor keys, and a deep, almost-baritone voice recounting stories of murder, loss, and spiritual themes that were more dark night of the soul than days of holy glory.

If Lindamood has a musical lineage, it is surely in the moody ancestry of Skip James or Robert Pete Williams, mysterious bluesmen who might sing to you about the crossroads but sure as hell weren’t going to show you the way. Equally adept on banjo as he is guitar, Lindamood’s three-finger style maintains the same kind of hypnotic menace as Dock Boggs, devoted to a roiling propulsion of the lyrics and in service to the song, with no side tours into showboat, bluegrass virtuosity.

In 2013, Erica took me to the Florida Folk Festival out in White Springs for the first time. She had been a longtime repeat customer but I can’t say if I’d ever really heard of the thing. Since 1953, this annual event has turned Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park into a kind of Memorial Day Weekend shrine for lovers of regional folk music, Florida folklore, crafts, soul food, and things all in between. Spontaneous jams prevail. There have been times where I would stop to catch some shade under a tree or simply light a cigarette and suddenly a guitar and banjo would fire up beside me, as two possible-strangers would break out into song. It is an environment where the type of DIY punk ethos promoting performer/audience blurs supreme. The demographic runs from old timers and families to hippie survivors and crafts-vendor types. There’s a high propensity for wearing bib overalls, always a plus for my Kentucky heritage. And this is the place where I first saw Frank Lindamood play.

Dressed in a work shirt and pants, hat brim pulled down over his eyes, Lindamood stood at the side of the stage, watching the current group play. When they were done, he set up his instruments quickly, and laid into it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say as being mesmerized – but I was convinced. In the past two years since, Lindamood remains our priority to see first once we walk through the gates of the park and into the festival grounds. And my conversion has definitely, at times, been moved to mesmerization.

While the now 67-year-old Lindamood began playing music early in his life, he didn’t release his first album, Hewed from the Rock, (30.26) until 2010. Two years later, he released To Be as Gods. Both albums are on the Gatorbone Records label and both are fairly brief affairs. Each record contains eight tracks, and each album just barely cracks the half hour mark. Well into the 21st century, where multimedia, promotional bombardment for most artists is generally the rule, not the exception, at the surface Lindamood’s “model for end goals” can seem as inscrutable as his mystical, ruminative dirges.

Four years after To Be as Gods, comes Songs from the OTHER Great American Songbook. A collaboration between Lindamood, Mike Koppy, and Dan Simberloff, along with illustrations by Robert Crumb, Songs is a 17-track CD-and-book release of some of Lindamood’s favorite earliest American songs, with accompanying essays where he delves into the songs’ histories and explains his attendant fascination with what he calls, “old time music.”

While Erica and I had made small talk with Lindamood in the previous years, at last year’s festival I approached him and wondered if he’d be interested in doing an interview for my blog. He agreed and handed me his card with all of his contact info. A year goes by, and within less than a week before the 2016 Florida Folk Fest is about to start, I frantically – and manically – stagger into action. Thankfully, with the direct (and quick!) help of Grant Peeples and Donna Mavity, I tracked Lindamood down and he had a nice, rambling 90-minute talk. What follows is a transcription of most of our conversation.

Starehouse: You know, last year at the festival I spoke to you I had kind of said, “Hey man, I want to interview for my arts blog.” And so, typically, a year goes by and I wait like five days before this year’s festival. But thanks for agreeing to this. And I’m glad I found you. Your website and liner notes for Hewed from the Rock, explain that you can be reached by telegraph to the Western Union office nearest Sopchoppy, Florida. You had given me your phone number but it was disconnected. So I was literally going do that [laughs] – and then I discovered that Western Union ended their telegraph service more than 10 years ago.

Frank Lindamood: Yeah, that’s one of the great tragedies of my life: that you can’t get a telegraph [laughs]. I long for the days of the little guy riding up on a bicycle with the message in his hand.

That’s a bygone era; like “email 1961.” I’m curious. You know, I’ve lived here in Florida for the better part of 36 of my 44 years, but I’ve never heard of your current home of Sopchoppy. Did you kind of “move there” or “wind up” there? You know what I mean?

I made an effort to move here at one point. I’m a native of Jacksonville.

Are you really?

Yes. I graduated from Forrest High School [originally named Nathan B. Forrest High School, in 2014 the school’s name was changed to Westside High School]. I was in the original class at Forrest High School. There were originally grades 7-12 and I went to school there in the seventh grade. Then by the next year they had a junior high they’d just opened up, and of course they named that after yet another Confederate officer named Jeb Stuart [laughs]. He had the distinction of, unlike Forrest, not being a wizard of the Klan [laughs]. Sometime when you have the time though, read about Forrest. He’s an amazing character. At the very end of his life, he became one of the most progressive people of the South. It’s very bizarre.

Maybe he had that “Amazing Grace” moment, you know?

Yeah, he did. I think the “moment” was four years in the saddle, fighting the Union army. That was the beginning of it, anyway. But anyhow, I left there in ’66 and went to Tallahassee to go to school. I was at the ripe old age of 17 and then I never left this area, because I saw so many bad changes in Jacksonville.

What kind of changes? Like resistance to integration and Civil Rights?

No, not really that. I lived in an area originally called Wesconnett and then we moved to Jacksonville Heights, which is over near Cecil Field. I mean, there were people bustin’ up stills almost in our backyard, after we moved over there, abandoning cars…I never had a problem with none of those guys, I went to school with a lot of them.

So what year did you graduate again, ’66?

Yes.

So were you around playing music at this point?

I’d just started a year or so before that. My father played and from the time I was a little kid I’d heard him play and I was very impressed by what he could do with a guitar. And he sang and played a lot of those old Carter Family tunes. He’s from West Virginia, you see. And that’s what got me really interested, and at a certain point in my life I said, “I can do this.” And I tried it when I was about 16. It took me a while but I got to where I could play harmonica and guitar a bit, and the banjo.

Yeah. So were seeing bands in Jacksonville back then? I know like Duane and Gregg Allman were playing around here as the Allman Joys. There was a pretty decent scene of young bands playing around here. Were you checking out any rock stuff back then?

I wasn’t interested in rock and roll and I didn’t do anything during my high school years but go hunt and fish around my Daddy’s place. I’d come home and get off the bus, put on my hunting and fishing clothes, and I’d do that until it got dark.

Well, that’s probably a healthy extracurricular activity for a teenager.

Well, we went out and raised a little hell on the weekends, but you know, out of my crowd there were only one or two guys that ever drank. The rest of us were drinking soda pop and doing crazy shit. But we were really kind of innocent, in a sense. We didn’t get into any kind of trouble like kids do now [laughs]. There were no drugs to speak of. Every once and awhile some young girl would get knocked up and have to get married. Because that’s what happened in those days; if a girl got knocked up she pretty much had to get married. But that was a freakish thing. That was almost unheard of.

So why did you head out to FSU? What were you looking to do?

I was going to go into chemistry and they had a very good chemistry program and also I’d been to Gainesville in ’65 at the National Science Fair Summer Camp. There were like 30 of us, and each one of us worked with a professor; I worked with a guy who was an air pollution guy. But at any rate, I really loved Gainesville. But most of my friends were going to FSU, and there were a lot more girls there. Gainesville was 3-to-1 male then; and whereas FSU was actually more women than men at that time.

Easy math for a young dude — you were somewhat guided by a different kind of science: biology.

Yes [laughs]. But chemistry was very strong there.

So did you complete the degree?

No, I went undecided. But I went into chemistry lab and that pretty much turned me off from me. I went into physics. So yeah, I got my actual degree in physics. And then I went from there right into construction work [laughs]. You know, I was married and had a kid on the way. I needed to work and make some money. So grad school was not an option.

I guess it was hard to find a physicist gig in Tallahassee, Florida in 1970.

No, I got an offer to go up to Pennsylvania and do one [graduate studies] but I just didn’t really want to do it. I probably should have.

I gotcha. And that was the end of your science career, once you started a family?

Pretty much. The only time I ever used that degree in the forty-some-odd years I was working, was at the health department for a year in Wakulla County. They required a degree in some science. It didn’t have to be physics; they preferred biology or environmental studies. But that was it. The rest of the time it was construction work and I worked in the theatre for many years.

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I know you were bustin’ you ass in school, but were you playing in Tallahassee as well? Were you already performing live at that point?

Yeah. I found people to play music with while I was an undergraduate. We went to the Florida Folk Festival, or White Springs. We called it White Springs in those days and we really had a good time.

So what was the first year you went to the fest?

I think it was ’67. It might’ve been ’68. And I had a very wonderful experience. I think it was sort of a prophetic thing in a sense. Gamble Rogers and Paul Champion were playing on stage. They were both pretty young then, too. And they were just tearin’ it up. They were two of the best I’d ever heard. And I wanted to play with them but I knew I couldn’t go up on stage, so I kind of sat off by the side and I had a harmonica I played this kind of pseudo-Charlie-McCoy harmonica. And they heard me and called me up on the stage. I mean, I was a good ways off. I didn’t really want them to hear me [laughs]; I was just trying to play along. They called me up and I played three songs with them onstage. I couldn’t believe it, because I didn’t really know anything.

How did that feel? Did you just try to stay in the moment and not freak out?

No, you know I really connected with those guys. I knew that I was in over my head. And they were very kind and they wanted somebody to play harmonica. And I also knew when it was time to get off the stage. Somehow I knew. They didn’t say, “Okay boy, that’s enough out of you.” It wasn’t like that at all. And I remember thinking, “These must be two of the nicest guys in the world.” Because here they were two of the most terrific musicians I’d ever heard and they were kind to me. And I knew I didn’t belong on the stage with them. That was sort of the standard to me, of what this music is all about: people like them that are so great, and so down to earth. It’s just like Ella Fitzgerald. I worked at the Ruby Diamond [concert hall at FSU] for 12 years as a lighting and soundman. I worked with all kinds of people in there. And the people like Ella Fitzgerald and Hal Holbrook were like the kindest people in the world. No ego at all, because they didn’t have to prove anything. They were the best there was.

Yeah, it’s surely a lack of insecurity towards your art. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone because you can back it up. I think a lot of phonies rise out of that kind greasy ego at play.

Absolutely.

I want to talk some more about Gamble, too, and I think he was indicative of this. Folk music is truly a “strong” genre music, in the same way as delta blues or traditional jazz, but the folk scene seems like it’s surely based on two things: its inclusive…you know, the jam session. Like what happened with you and Gamble and Champion. And secondly, it’s always acknowledging the past. Today, not too many people would have the balls to walk onstage and play a Skip James song and claim it as their own. It seems like folk music is perpetually reinforcing the lineage, and that very same, ongoing reverence protects its survival. You know what I mean? And pop music has never done this, and never will, because they don’t give a shit. And the music remains shit.

Absolutely. Folk music is almost by definition “non-exploitive.”

But people do get their careers of out folk, especially with this stupid Americana tag; a term that just infuriates me. Among other songwriters and roots-conscious players, I’ve interviewed Dan Hicks and Jorma Kaukonen and asked about their feelings about this, and now you. Those two seemed indifferent or bemused by the tag, although Hicks conceded that maybe he had finally found a category [laughs]. But I need to let this Americana anger go [laughs]. But it just grates on my nerves with. Americana could be everything from Bo Carter to the Holy Modal Rounders to Fred Neil to Karen Dalton…I mean, it’s ultimately insulting to the artists; I think it compartmentalizes as much as it’s dismissive. It’s a marketing thing: “They’ve got a mandolin? It’s Americana.” Folk music is traditional, not sequestered. Americana is killing folk music more than it’s curating.

[Laughs]. No argument here. I hate the Americana label, too, because it sounds like a style of furniture. [Laughs]. It sounds like something a sophisticated yuppie might buy to put some downhome quality in their house. “We’re going Americana this year.”

All right – rant over [laughs]. Sorry. But I’m kind of relieved we’re on the same page [laughs]. But you you’ve been doing this for decades, so my overly rambling question [laughs] is – do you still get the sense of that egalitarian, “bring your guitar with you” vibe with folk music?

I still very much do. I’ll give you an example of that. The thing about the old music is that it’s timeless. We call it “old time” but it’s really timeless music. This new release I worked on with Mike Koppy, and Dan Simberloff who wrote the foreword, is called Songs from the OTHER Great American Songbook. The book deals with this and the three of us touch upon this idea that we have to go back. Koppy makes some very distinct and almost-abrasive statements about Tin Pan Alley and how they exploited old folk music and rip it off. A lot of guys have stolen those songs, done pretty bad versions of them, made a lot of money off them, and won’t even acknowledge that it was somebody like Robert Wilkins and Skip James that wrote the damn song. And among what I call the songwriters; and I don’t like the term singer-songwriters. That’s another label I can’t stand – it’s cumbersome. I’ll tell you another funny story about that from a guy named Jack Williams, you may have heard of, here’s a terrific player and performer out of South Carolina. But in 2011, I was playing for this 30A thing [30A Songwriters Festival in South Walton, Florida], in all of those ritzy, hotsy-totsy, so-called beach communities from Panama City and all the way over to Destin and that area. And I was asked to play with three other guys, and we’re all about the same age, and one of them, Effron White, had won the 2011 Billboard contest for best song. So we did our round, we did about four songs each. And when I got done, I went to meet my son who’d come to visit me, and we’re having supper. And Effron came up to me and started talking to me. He said, “Man, I’m really glad that I got to hear you and play up there with you, you’ve got some great songs.” And I said, “So do you, man. That one that won the contest? That’s a terrific song.” He said, “Listen if you’d been in that contest you would’ve won that contest.” And that’s how these songwriters generally are. I don’t know if he has any insecurity, I sure didn’t sense it about him, but he’s not a big star, he’s not a big name. But I think that’s how great songwriters generally are. They’re not defensive; they’re not guarded about their work. There’s no jealousy of other people’s success. I don’t see much of that in this scene. That’s one of things I really like about it.

Yeah, I think that’s somehow a common quality of, for lack of a better word, legitimate artists. Like we touched on earlier. Any doubts, and we all have them, are kind of dissolved in the process of making the work.

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Tell me some more about this Songs from the OTHER Great American Songbook.

Well, Michael wanted to originally call it The Real American Songbook. I thought that was a pretty good title but then Lis Williamson pointed out to me that it was sort of an affront to the Great American Songbook. And jazz players always go to that book.

Yeah, kind of like The Fake Book – with all those standards and chord changes.

Yeah. And I have a tremendous respect for those guys: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc. Some of those guys wrote Tin Pan Alley stuff but they also wrote some really great music. And I didn’t want to begin with the first thing you see is the title that could be almost an insult. So we changed it to Songs from the OTHER Great American Songbook. And that title really explains it since we’re talking about stuff that, for the most part, is not written down and often doesn’t have a pedigree; or something like “Goodnight, Irene,” whose background is pretty murky, and the guy who made it famous was a three-time convicted felon [laughs].

Yeah, Leadbelly was probably considered one of the original outlaw artists.

Yeah [laughs], but also a true American musical genius. Dan Simberloff sent me this thing just a few months ago. The Wall Street Journal did a tribute to Leadbelly. And there was a statement from, I believe it was John Lennon, which essentially said: “No Leadbelly, no Beatles.” And I do think the Beatles, out of many of the rock bands, did pay homage to people. I really respect those guys. Chuck Berry, Elvis…and they credited Leadbelly. I think he was one of the first great rock and rollers.

So along with Leadbelly, how many artists or songs in total are on this new release?

There are 17 songs.

And is that 17 artists as well, one artist per song?

Yes. Now there are songs that have been done by the same artists. In other words, Doc Watson’s probably done four or five songs out of that group. And Doc’s a real authentic folk guy, probably one of the best. But all in all, the versions that I drew from, or that I referred to, are generally one particular artist. Now some songs, like “Old Paint,” I didn’t pick an artist at all. I just love the song; it’s an old cowboy song. Well, “Goodnight, Irene,” apparently there’s a song written very much like it around the turn of the century by Gussie Davis. But Leadbelly put his indelible stamp on his songs. And I have to say he wrote them. I can’t say it any other way.

So who are some of the other artists on this that you think are notable?

Well, for instance with “Lonesome Road Blues,” my father was the guy I first heard play it. The definitive version is probably Woody Guthrie. The song called “The Year of Jubilo,” which is about emancipation, the only person I’ve ever actually heard play it has been at sessions; I’ve never heard a recording of it, except I paid tribute to the guy who wrote it: Henry Clay Work. “Old Abe,” which is another song, that is based on the tune, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but the words are totally different. It apparently came from soldiers from east Tennessee who, more or less defected from Tennessee, and joined the Union army, and it was passed down through a great folk artist named Frank Proffitt.

And you somehow got R. Crumb illustrations for this thing. That’s pretty damn impressive. How did that all come about?

Very interesting story. The illustrations are from his deck of cards [Heroes of the Blues Trading Cards]. And he did, I believe 52. But here’s how we got permission to use them. I’ve played music with Dan Simberloff since I was a sophomore in college. He is, I believe, the foremost ecologist in the world. But Dan is a serious student of old time music. He was there in Greenwich Village when all hell broke loose and they had the “great folk scare” and all that. And he played with Doc Watson from time to time and with Bill Monroe here and there. Anyway, he was in France on sabbatical, in Montpellier, I believe. And he was trying to find someone to play old time music with. Well, someone connected him with Crumb, who plays old time music just as good as anybody could.

Yeah, man. R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders.

[Laughs]. Yeah, that’s the guys, man. So R. Crumb was near enough, where Dan called him and said, “Hey man, I wanna play some music with you…I play old time music, I play some guitar, mandolin.” And Crumb said, “Well man, come on up.” And Dan said they really had a lot of fun. And he knows about a million songs, and every song he played, Crumb could play really strong accompaniment. So when we started doing this album thing, I’d told Michael this Crumb story and he said, “You know, why don’t you get Dan to contact Crumb and see if we can use some of his pictures?” And a really funny thing happened. Dan finally got through to him. He had to go through his wife, and apparently that’s not so easy.

Yeah, Aline Kominsky. She seems like a real character in her own right.

She’s the manager from hell I guess [laughs]. So Dan finally got through to Crumb and he said, “Hell use anything you want, man. I don’t care.” So Crumb gave us the go ahead to use his illustrations, Michael said “We need to rewrite these essays so we can use more of these Crumb drawings” [Laughs].

Hell yeah. Crumb’s a true blue.

Oh man, he’s great.

In a way, this reminds me of a kind of variation on Harry Smith’s The Anthology of American Folk Music. And Smith is my kind of Americana [laughs]. You know Smith was a follower of Aleister Crowley and the artwork in the Anthology is mired in this esoteric occult and alchemy imagery.

Oh really? Well, I didn’t know all of that [laughs]. That’s kind of wild, man.

Was this release in anyway inspired by Smith’s anthology? Because for many, that Anthology is considered like the main codex for much of this stuff.

No. I would say that the way this thing came about is kind of typical in our, quote “folk process.” Michael Koppy and I toured the West Coast in 2013. We started out in Bellingham, Washington and then wound up in San Diego, and then flew over to Hawaii, where he was living at the time. And when Michael puts a tour together, you play every night. At the end of the tour, one of these young girls he calls his stepdaughters…they’re really daughters of women that he’d dated for a long time. Both of the girls are of African origin. One of them came to visit us for a few days when we were in Hawaii. And then I met his other daughter Keisha, who is living in Dar es Salaam. And Keisha is fluent in English and African dialects. And I had nothing to really do, so I just began playing these old songs for Keisha, as much to maybe let her hear some of these African cultural and musical influences in some of the very oldest American songs. And while I was playing and we were talking, I was saying, “This what the African people created when they had nothing. Nothing.” Africans were denied their own music, denied their own language. We took them from their homes and stripped them of everything. And yet they came here and brought us the banjo and all of this incredible music, and they took our music and made into something else that was, in some ways, greater. And after we finished the tour, Michael said, “We’ve gotta make a record of those songs, man. I didn’t know you knew all of that stuff.” I must’ve played for two hours, none of it originals. He had already made a record called Ashmore’s Store, which centers around a store in Frenchtown, the old black business district in Tallahassee, run by a white guy, from Sopchoppy: Rob Roy Ashmore. And Michael kind of grew up there and Ashmore took him under his wing. It’s case of when you’re a young kid and somebody takes you under their wing and teaches you about life. It’s usually not your mom and dad; it’s really usually somebody else. So Michael released this album, which is just a great collection of really great songs, and he released it with a book, about Ashmore’s Store. So he said, “Let’s do what I did with Ashmore’s Store. Let’s do a book about the music. You record the music and we’ll issue a companion book.”

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Yeah, let me touch on that. With these essays, are they as much a historical overview or based more on your own relationship with the tunes?

You know, it’s funny. I started out with the idea that I was just going to write a very brief statement of how I learned the song, what it meant to me, and some of the people, in many cases personal friends of mine, who’d taught me about the song. But it got to a point where I realized that these songs are emblematic of our culture. When I wrote the essay for “Old Paint,” I wrote several pages about the cowboy life. I have a friend named Joe Hutto who’s a working cowboy in Wyoming. And he’s also written three incredible books. And to me, there’s something emblematic about cowboy music. I studied martial arts in Japan for a year, and for me there’s a sense that the cowboy and the samurai are very similar. Except that American heroes are very individualistic, whereas Japanese heroes are generally part of a group. But otherwise, in every other regard, the virtues and the strengths of a cowboy are very much like the virtues and the strengths of a samurai. And I thought that this was a case of how we see how mythology function in a nation. And it works the same way for the Japanese as it does for us. In a slightly different way, but it does the same type of thing. It requires the same sort of cultural structure. And so I often wrote stuff like that. I wrote about the life of Skip James and how was a very complex character, and just a remarkable, pioneering musician.

Yeah, that Stephen Calt book about James [I’d Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues] is one of my favorite books about any musician. Skip James is my guy. He’s my favorite blues musician.

Yeah, he was a fascinating person. James was a pimp. But he was also a preacher. You know it’s funny, there’s a guy named Vgo – I don’t know if you’ve met him, he plays at White Springs every year – and he knows so much about this old stuff. He’s a little older than I am, and he was a kid up in New York when all of this stuff was breaking loose. And he played music onstage with Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt when they were touring together. He says all of the rumors about those two and of Skip James are not true. Skip James was a very decent and engaging man and he just loved John Hurt. And it’s known that John Hurt was just in awe of Skip James.

Even though in the forty or so decades there’s been a really deep study and appreciation of country blues, I still wonder how much of the actual true history was so “racialized” to the point that now we’ll never really know the true stories of some of these musicians. And nearly all of the histories invariably describe them as being constantly ripped off and brutalized, sometimes even after they were successful.

I touched on this a bit with my essay on Leadbelly. When he was just becoming known to the wider world, there was an article in LIFE magazine, with a color photograph at the time, which was very unusual. I want to say it was 1937 or ’36, I could be wrong. And the title of the article was “Bad N****r Makes Good Minstrel.” I’m not lying – LIFE magazine. And what I wrote was, “then as now, let’s scare people a little bit.” And I pointed out that Leadbelly had gotten himself into some scrapes, and he was not a man to tangle with. But he also knew more children’s songs than he knew jailhouse songs. He was a musical genius. And fortunately, he didn’t get famous from that [LIFE feature] – the whole thing got obscured by WWII and the Depression. But when he came into his own, after the war, there in the folk scene in New York, he was a much more respected man. So his career was not that of some “boogie man.” His legacy has lived way beyond those hateful words of LIFE magazine.

He still is known as much for being this criminal, but hell, I don’t think any of the greatest musicians are always early for choir practice.

[Laughs]. That’s right.

You know, all of these songs on your new album obviously have had a major impact on your life. But I’m curious about this, because I think everyone has some kind of resonant, if not defining, moments in his or her life, at times based on music. But when you were a kid, and it maybe it was something your dad sang, was there a particular song that you heard, and that moment…you know, where it borders on the mystical.

Absolutely. Yeah, there were several things that happened in that early period from the time I started playing when I was 16 or 17. Hell, I started playing a ukulele but at night I would get up when everybody was asleep in the house, and I’ve always been the kind of person who stays up late, and I’d sneak in the den where daddy kept this old Gibson and I would try to play “John Henry” on it. That was a huge thing for me. That was the first song I ever tried to play in a guitar. And I would also take his harmonica and go out in the woods and play it, where nobody could hear me. I’m sure he knew I was doing it. And my father…he was a dark soul, man. Tough guy. If you want to know how I saw him, and the way I see myself, and also my kids to some extent, my song “Stearman” is about him. But he was great as a mentor in music. He never tried to force anything one me. He knew that I loved the old stuff the best, the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers tunes, the early Hank Williams…that’s what I really liked. And he played a lot of that but also might play some pop tune from that time like, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” He told me the story about my great-uncle Chase murdering that man in West Virginia and I thought, “Is this one of this apocryphal family stories, like an urban myth?” And I looked it up on the Internet; yes he did.

Is this “Mr. Graves”?

Yeah, “Mr. Graves.”

I love that tune. That’s one of the ones that hooked me when I first saw you play. That one’s coming straight up from that Dock Boggs lineage, just a stone Murder Ballad.

Oh yeah.

I got that one line written down, because I wanted to touch on this: “I don’t remember drawing that little .32/but I emptied that revolver and every shot went through/You cried “Lord, have mercy, it ain’t my time to go/well, you should’ve called on someone that you know.” Man, that’s a fierce lyric.

That’s something people would say up there, and something I’d heard. But I saw it actually in a Cormac McCarthy book: The Orchard Keeper. Where the guy tries to hit him with his tire jack. And he gets the better of him, got him on the ground and starts to choke him to death, and the guy cries “Lord have mercy,” and he says, “You better call on somebody you know.” [Laughs]. I need to acknowledge that.

So you have two previous albums, and the first, Hewed from the Rock, just came out in 2010. You’ve been playing music for so long that I’d say you’ve been calculated [laughs] in releasing your work. Most musicians these days are trying to shit out a new boxed set every other week. Why did you wait so long to release any albums?

Well, I never wrote anything until about 2009. You now, everybody writes a song sooner or later and I wrote a couple in the early days of college. And I didn’t really know whether they were any good or not and I just lost them; they weren’t much to speak of. I did write a song for a dance production because I couldn’t find anything that worked in the old time repertoire that worked for the particular dance. And I was sort of proud of it at the time, but looking back on it, it was a good song while they were dancing. [Laughs]. But outside of that…[laughs]. The piece featured two very beautiful young dancers, a young black man and an Irish girl and they were just great dancers and it was just a beautiful scene. More of a romantic couples dance, not very suggestive, and it was easy to write it for them. But when I was back home, playing it without the dance, I realized it kind of lost its magic. So starting in 2009 I really began; and I write them very slowly. If I write a song fast, it’s unusual that I want to keep it. I’ve got notebooks full of songs that I haven’t recorded. I might have one song with ten pages of lyrics.

So since you work that methodically have you ever tried shifting the writing towards something like short stories or long form poems?

What I’ve really found out is that I kind of write two kinds of songs. One is a song, which you hear it, like “Mr. Graves” or “Going to Florida” – you may not know that I wrote it. You may not know it’s not a hundred years old.

Which is an art.

It is. And I’m not trying to steal from the old style, but that’s what’s in my head. I didn’t listen to much rock and roll when I was growing up. I listened to the Beatles when I got into college. We’d get stoned and listen to Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s. I loved the Beatles. But I gotta tell you, when times got really tough, and I was really having a hard time…and we all go through these times…it was the old time music, blues and hillbilly music, and also Beethoven. His “heroic” period and the German Romantics, people like Puccini…and Champion Jack Dupree, the great blues pianist. He was terrific. Man. He got me through a lot of bad times.

Lemme ask you a bit more about some of the specific songs. That “Sailor’s Farewell,” melody has that nice major and minor chord shifting with that sweet dominant 7th chord dropped in there…it all just really rolls along really well. Who was Van Lewis, who inspired this great tune?

What inspired the tune was more his wife and his daughters. Van was a person who was a descendant of the Lewises of Tallahassee that established the first bank in Florida. He was “the third generation.” You know the thing about the third generation. The first generation was sort of like the Rockefellers; they made a bunch of money and made investments. And then the second generation sustains it. And then by the third generation, things have to change and the wealth becomes sort of dissipated. And in a lot of cases in the South they end up being land poor, because they have land but not any liquid cash. Van lived in a beach house. He was a very eccentric guy who was a Scientologist for a while, but we forgave him for that [laughs]. And he had one kick he would never let go of, and that was, he was anti-circumcision. He was just a fanatic about not circumcising children.

That’s not a bad campaign, considering it’s an Abrahamic holdover from thousands of years ago [laughs.]

I know, but we don’t sacrifice animals on the stone anymore, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, I certainly got circumcised at birth.

Oh sure. Me too. I’m in the “welcome to life” club [laughs]. I’m waiting for that class action suit, brother.

[Laughs]. Yeah, let’s get ‘em. But Van wasn’t interested in money. He had a place in St. Teresa Beach, very nice place. His wife Mary Balthrop was an amazing woman, who managed the FSU London program. Which you can imagine, riding herd on a bunch of college kids in London, England…what kind of a person she is. She was the manager at the marine lab where I worked, the last job that I had before I retired. And his daughters are two incredible young women. The love he had for them and vice versa was just such a beautiful thing to see. When he got pancreatic cancer, he only lasted about four months. But at the times that I saw him, and it wasn’t that many, he always carried himself with the most magnificent grace. He actually seemed concerned more for other people than he was for himself. I was just so moved by the way he handled himself and the way he passed away. And that love for his daughters and his wife. And I wrote that song as much for Mary, because she grieved terribly; 30 years they were married. When she met him [laughs], he was playing the conch shell in a band at Harvard University, when he was going to law school. By the way, the man was brilliant. His IQ was probably immeasurable. But what he did for a living was raising clams out in the gulf [laughs]. You know?

Let me talk about this, and if you don’t feel comfortable, we’ll move on, but in the liner notes of Hewed from the Rock, you describe yourself as a “recovering Catholic.” But for me, some of my favorite songs of yours are the ones that allude to God and faith; like “Gethsemane” and “Towers of Babel”… “Mother of Eve.” And in the liner notes, they all feature scriptural quotes next to their titles in the track listing. All of this – God, faith, and spirituality – fascinates me, personally. I have my own set of benign, non-artillery based, spiritual beliefs. But your songs never come across pious, like you’re proselytizing. But do you feel like your music and life are kind of guided by spiritual beliefs, or a higher power?

Well, yes…and I think [pauses] I suppose that’s probably a fair thing to say. I don’t believe the way that Christians do, for the most part. I’ve studied Islam to an extent, I’ve read The Life of Muhammad, and I’ve read some readings of Islam, and I think that also is a truly amazing religion, particularly when you get away from some of the fanatics that are running around loose now.

Like much of current Christianity [laughs].

Yeah, like Christianity [laughs]. Judaism is an extremely interesting and powerful faith except that among the Jews the diversity of opinion of people who call themselves Jews is outrageous; for a relatively small religion, compared to the other ones. But I’d like to explain that the titles of those [first two] albums which weren’t necessarily a plan, but what came across after I’d assembled with eight songs for each one of them. The titles come from the scriptures and they are indicative of the songs themselves for the most part. Hewed from the Rock was a description of Jesus’s tomb. It’s also a perfectly good description of a railroad tunnel, which really did become John Henry’s grave as well. Here’s the thing about Hewed from the Rock. When you read it in the bible, it’s only mentioned in one of the gospels, but what happened was, either after the crucifixion or right before, a good friend of Jesus’s…and I’d have to go back and read it, I don’t remember his name…he said, “I have a place to bury him. I know of a place to bury him.” And there was a place in the mountainside, which was hewed from the rock, which means to me, it wasn’t natural; it was man made. Somebody came along, at some point in the past, and made this tomb. As if they knew, as if they were privy to some prophecy, that there would be somebody who would need to be buried there. And so the meaning of that, to me, was fate. And all of those songs, except “Going to Florida,” are obviously about faith, and about destiny.

I’ve seen you perform more than once, and so I know from firsthand experience that you’re not flinging bibles into the crowd [laughs]…just for the sake of our readers here.

[Laughs] no, no.

But I think that in these particular songs, there’s an anger and confusion in the spirituality, as much as any comfort or reassurance. I don’t know. I think once the Christians killed off the Gnostics – they blew it [laughs].

Yeah, exactly. That was not a good move.

Let’s talk about your actual playing and instruments. When I’ve seen you perform, you’ve played mainly Dobro and banjo.

Yeah. The guitar is actually a Tricone Resonator. The strings are lower on this; the Dobros are usually jacked up high enough that you have to play them like a steel guitar.

So why do you prefer those two instruments?

Well, it’s a funny thing. Most of the songs I’ve written have been with the Resonator, and it’s a strange process. You know, I think if I had never got that guitar I wouldn’t have written hardly anything. It’s strange. I bought it from Morty Beckman, a good friend of mine, when he had a guitar store up in Tallahassee and he sold blemished guitars. He sold them for a fraction of their original cost. And he also sold some imports, some from French Canadians, and some from China. And this is a Chinese-built guitar. So I started playing it and I wanted to get the other style, which has a single resonator in the front. But this one sounded so good, I decided to buy it. When I took it home and began playing it, I was disappointed. Not in the guitar, but the fact that I couldn’t seem to get the potential sound out of it I wanted. And the reason was that I was playing in the standard guitar tuning. And drawing from my knowledge of the banjo, I began to play open tunings. Then, when you play in an open tuning, all of the old ruts that you fall into fall away. Because your left hand has to find its way. So I would use the left hand in ways that I was accustom to, but in doing so I would find totally different sounds.

Sure. Many of those country blues artists played solely in those alternate tunings, like “open D.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with the rock band Sonic Youth but their entire sound was based on alternate tunings. You can really get some impossible sonorities out of a guitar with those tunings you’d never get from standard tuning. Even these like trippy, Gamelan-type sounds.

Yeah, you can’t reach those sounds. That’s what I did. Some tunings were adaptations from banjo tunings that I already knew that were pretty weird; I mean, those mountain people, they know hundreds of tunings. The others, I actually sat down and figured out how to make a tuning do what I wanted to do. The best example on my records is probably “Eden.” Which is the same tuning I use for “Towers of Babel.” But I could never have dreamed up those chord changes on standard tuning. I never would’ve been able to do it; I don’t know any music theory. I kind of blundered into it. But those things also guide your song. I don’t care what anybody says, no matter how important lyrics are – and they are very important – but really, you get started, with sound. So without that guitar, and the open tunings, I probably wouldn’t have written a whole lot of songs.

Kind of shifting gears here, you know when artists have liner notes on their albums its another way for connecting to their audience. And for someone who has written predominately dark songs, your liner notes almost read like a John Fahey record or like they were penned by Tom Robbins; like, “he allegedly began arcane studies with a shadowy figure known only as Turpentine Willie.” A lot of musicians will use the liner notes on their albums to really plume out their feathers or issue the group’s manifesto. Why do you take such a playful approach with the liner notes?

I do it because the music’s so dark; I have to have a counterpoint. And I don’t write funny songs.

[Laughs] I’ve noticed.

Yeah [laughs] so if I can tease them a little bit, the liner notes help. A lot of times I’ll play an old time song to break up the set, because they’re not so heavy. I’ve been writing in a lighter vein in recent times, but I’m certainly not as prolific that way. I can make people laugh when I talk to them. But I can’t make people laugh when I sing to them. I’d like for them to laugh and then I’ll do a murder song [laughs]. Then I’ll make a joke about murder songs, and then make a banjo player joke, then I’ll play them a song about the Civil War, and you know… that’s a fun topic [laughs].

So man, it sounds like you’ve got a lot going on. The folk fest is coming up, this new release…what else is happening? Any touring?

Well, now I’ve got three records out and I’m working on a fourth one. And I don’t know where it’s going to go. My theory is that’s going to be called Kingdom Spread Across the Earth. That’s the statement of Jesus to the Apostle Thomas; an apocryphal book. It’s a very interesting statement. I discovered it from reading Joseph Campbell. Anyway, Jesus is telling them, “People think that the Father’s kingdom is a place you can go to. And they think it’s apart from us, somewhere far away. But it’s not: the kingdom of the Father is spread across the earth. And men do not see it.” And I think that’s something that every Christian in the world ought to read.

Absolutely. That’s a very Gnostic vision and image. That sounds like it could be from the Gospel of Thomas.

It’s an apocryphal book, I do know that. Maybe it’s just called the Book of Thomas. But it could be. But with this I don’t know how much more obvious Jesus could get. Even in the gospel, he said, “The kingdom of Heaven is in the hearts of men.” It’s not a place you go. It’s a place you find.

Yeah. You wake up to the experience. It’s what in Vedanta they call the Atman. We have this ember of God within us.

Absolutely. And this whole thing is kind of an organizing principle. I don’t just write an album without some sense that there’s something going on there. That people can unify with. Like in To Be as Gods, everybody is making a decision between right and wrong in that album. The most poignant is Robert E. Lee trying to figure out what the hell he should do after the battle of Gettysburg. It’s really a vision. It’s the same sort of thing that we all have to find at some point in our lives. Even if it’s at the very end – maybe he discovers what the war was all about.

Frank, man, I have truly enjoyed talking to you.

Yeah, same here. It’s been a real pleasure.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot from you here. I’m pretty much out of the loop on present day folk music. I mean, I obviously like your stuff [laughs], but I mainly listen to the really old stuff, what you all “old time music.” And for me, folk music is as much like The Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs [laughs].

[Laughs]. Man, I saw the Fugs perform live in Greenwich Village.

Oh, man! […with embarrassing excitement] When?!

I only went to New York twice in my life. And the first time was us four hicks from Florida that hitchhiked up there [laughs]. And we’re wandering around Greenwich Village and we had all memorized the Fugs songs when we were in high school. And so there they were. We all go inside this club and sit down. There’s a sign that says you have to be 21. Well, none of us are 21; we were 18, 19 years old. The Fugs are playing, all of this crazy stuff is going onstage and around us, we’re laughing our asses off, and there are these two cops standing behind us. So now we’re getting a little nervous, because we’re worried if they’re going to start checking IDs. So these cops walk up to about three rows in front of us and they grab these two kids and just pitch ‘em out the door. And I turned over to this New York hippie dude sitting next to me and I said, “Hey, what was that all about? Are they ID’ing people in here?” And he said, “Nah. They threw them out ‘cause they couldn’t hear the band. They were making too much noise.” [Laughs].

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Daniel A. Brown

starehouse@gmail.com

 

The Florida Folk Festival takes place May 27-29 at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, 11016 Lillian Sanders Dr. in White Springs. $25 per day; $50 for weekend pass, (877) 635-3655, floridastateparks.org/folkfest

 Frank Lindamood performs at 4:30 p.m. on May 28 at the Under the Oaks stage.

 Lindamood also performs at 11 a.m. at the Old Marble stage and presents a Three Finger Old Time Style Banjo workshop at 4 p.m. at the Workshop II stage on May 29.

 

 

 

Creel This Book – A Book Review of “Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan”

Jubilee-Hitchhiker-Cover

 

I finally finished reading William Hjortsberg’s “Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan.” It is surely the most exhaustive (and exhausting) biography ever written about Richard Brautigan and one of the most brutal pieces of literary hagiography my eyes have ever peeped upon. Since undertaking this task, maybe late last winter, I wound up reading many books while “inside” of this book. This was probably inevitable because I am easily distracted – oh, listen to that washing machine whirl away! – but it was also a much-needed form of therapy as “Jubilee” was a colossal undertaking and I needed some “breather reads” to reserve my concentration; for lo, I am a burnout. The size of a miniature phone book, “Jubilee Hitchhiker” weighs around 4.5 pounds and measures approximately 10” x 7” x 2.” When I was in the earliest days of reading it, the book felt so heavy, that, as I was lying in bed with the giant paperback on my chest, it was crushing my sternum. I would have to roll on my side to breath and then roll again on my back to keep reading. It was a physical commitment.
Admittedly, I have posted many Brautigan quips/posts on a memoir piece here and on Facebook, where I have swooned on and on about my pre-adolescent discovery of his writing; a revelation that is radical at twelve yet quite-possibly-embarrassing-and-mawkish at 42. Oh well. Of course, stumbling upon someone like Brautigan when you are a confused kid is about as original as a sunburn or chickenpox. But that doesn’t make that long ago experience any less resonant for me.
Brautigan is surely best known for his 1967 book, “Trout Fishing in America,” and is mistaken for being a “hippie writer,” even though he was really a part of the Beat-era scene. During the San Francisco psychedelic heyday, Brautigan dodged the incoming horde of hippies and instead aligned himself with the “everything should be free” street socialism of Emmett Grogan and the hoodlums-turned-Robin-Hoods known as The Diggers. Brautigan hated sixties drug use (although he drank like a, uh, fish), and abhorred the mandatory and sometimes-aimlessly stoned defiance of the middle class flower children who apparently sidestepped the brutal poverty he had endured as a child. Brautigan’s lifelong obsession with fishing stemmed from the fact that it was one of the ways he avoided starvation when he was a boy.
His childhood in Oregon was populated with a series of stepfathers, some loving, others abusive. One of them, a short order cook, was left to watch his blond-headed stepson but needed to go to work. His solution? He tied the-then-four-year-old Brautigan to a bedpost with a length of rope. Years later, Brautigan recalled that he had just enough slack to walk to the bathroom, and, most importantly, stare out the window at the street below. Brautigan spent half his youth roaming the woods with fishing rod in hand; the other half was devoted to reading and trying to figure out how to write.
Increasingly moody and erratic, in his early adulthood he threw a brick through a police station window, a senseless act that landed him in a state mental hospital where he was rewarded with a series of electro-shock treatments. Brautigan eventually scrambled down to San Francisco. In the course of a decade, he honed his writing skills and established himself in that literary and bohemian scene.
For all of his eccentricities, Brautigan was a disciplined writer and spent long hours narrowing down his poems, stories, and novels into tightly edited works. After the publication of “Trout Fishing,” he enjoyed an immediate success that went directly to his head and liver. His drinking increased as did his sense of self-importance, two factors that would seemingly destroy him.
From the beginning of the tale, Brautigan comes across as being hard-wired from birth and totally programmed for a life of complete awkwardness. Maybe spending so much time alone as a youth simply spilled over into his inability to be around other people; he had little, if any, socialization skills. An undercurrent of loneliness, paranoia, and eventual misanthropy seemed to direct his every move and possibly explains his ability to capture such somber and poignant realizations about life, particularly in his short stories. Brautigan was, if nothing else, a master of exploring the sensorial and interior experience of being alone. He was a keen observer since he failed in participation.
Regardless of his questionable approach to relationships — a cadre of lovers and “best friends” suddenly arrive in the narrative and are dismissed just as quickly, moving to the “enemy” column of the page — he attracted a fascinating group of acquaintances that reads like a roster of twentieth century creative types and fellow loose screws. This list includes (in no particular order): Thomas and Becky McGuane, Robert and Bobbie Creeley, Lenore Kandel, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Rip Torn, Bruce Conner, The Hell’s Angels, Russell Chatham, a handful of contemporary Japanese novelists I am completely unfamiliar with, various publishing figures from that era, Allen Ginsberg, Jeff Bridges, Peter Fonda, Philip Whalen, Sam Peckinpah…just a stream of unrelated cameos that zip in and out of Brautigan’s life. By the end of the book, Brautigan was severing ties with everyone. Many later paragraphs end with: “After they met in ___, this was this last time ___ would ever see Brautigan.”
Alcoholism was a constant companion. Calvados and bourbon are served up straight and drench nearly every page. Some of Brautigan’s drunken hijinks were based on Dadaist playfulness, like toting around a paper-mache bird called Willard; others, including leveling a shotgun at a hapless Wim Wenders, are downright horrifying. While the quarts of whiskey never seemed to diminish Brautigan’s writing, the booze surely helped transform him into one ornery sonofabitch and delusional egomaniac.
During the late seventies and early eighties, Brautigan’s arc as a literary star plummeted but he continued to write albeit with bizarre results. An obsessive scribbler in journals, Brautigan would document the world around him, sometimes in his brief poems, at other times writing out the minutiae of the items populating his hotel rooms. A magazine assignment about super models in Japan became the 179 stream-of-consciousness-screed, “The Fate of a West German Model in Tokyo.” It remains unpublished. A treatment for a surreal television pilot, titled “Timber Wolves,” precedes David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” by fifteen years for what would have surely been the most fucked up thing ever aired on the small screen.
Brautigan punctuated his life with a gun blast in his home in Bolinas, California. The house was rumored to be haunted by the ghost by a young Chinese girl so she might have acquired an unwanted guest. Hjortsberg actually begins the book with the mop up and aftermath of the 49-year-old writer’s suicide, so for the uninitiated this becomes the ultimate spoiler alert as to the unavoidable path of “Jubilee.”
In a journal entry written near the end of his life, Brautigan acknowledged, “My chief character flaws have been alcoholism, insomnia, and eternal desire.” Whether this was a moment of humble clarity or a justification for decades of daredevil writing jags, enigmatic observations about reality, and crashing mood swings is probably on the shoulders of the reader.
I have read other reminiscences and works about Brautigan, some penned by friends, others by scholars. His daughter Ianthe Brautigan’s memoir, “You Can’t Catch Death,” is surely both a heartfelt and disturbing remembrance and the best place to start. While Brautigan is surely a heroic figure in my own pantheon of nutty people, I knocked him off the pedestal years ago. I’m too agitated for prolonged worship. Hjortsberg’s book reminds me why I held him in such grand regard as well as the subsequent removal of the crotchety author from my shrine. Without question, I still think Brautigan is one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th century and invented a style that is hermetically-sealed; to write like Brautigan draws an instant comparison to him. Which might be another sort of epitaph and possible finish line for his drunken, sleepless, “eternal desire” to find rest.
His influence is great enough that I have written three previous book reviews, all of them published, yet felt compelled to write this fourth “review” in a mad, hurried dash for no apparent reason other than to maybe brag that I finished reading this gargantuan fucking book.

 

Daniel A Brown

starehouse@gmail.com

God is Loving Us Now

Krishna Das offers locals a “chants” encounter with a night of devotional music

KD-Promo46

Song, spirituality, and celebration converge in the concerts of Krishna Das.In the past two decades, Krishna Das has been leading crowds around the world in kirtans, a call-and-response experience that is one part religious revival and one part cosmic sing-along. Accompanied by simple instrumentation, Krishna Das (or as his fans call him, KD) begins a chant and the crowd then responds in kind. While KD is the undeniable flashpoint of his kirtans, the collective joy and energy of the attending audience soon detonates the experience into one of melodic and mystical unity. KD’s repertoire ranges from “Hare Krishna” to “Amazing Grace,” merging the Ganges River with the Mississippi Delta over a drone of harmonium and the echoing chorus of the crowd. Continue reading

A Welcome Intrusion

A pair of SoCal artists invade CoRK with Interlopers

One For Each: “Roughly 16 x25 x4; Acrylic on wood and mixed media; light, velvet, gold leaf, and polymer clay, etc...”

Jennie Cotterill’s One For Each: “Roughly 16 x25 x4; Acrylic on wood and mixed media; light, velvet, gold leaf, and polymer clay, etc…”

 The Artist in Residence program at CoRK Arts District has produced a successful series of exhibits by both established and emerging artists. Previous AIR participants Rachel Rossin, Casey Brown, and the Estlunds (Mark, Shannon, and Phillip) have all used CoRK’s large gallery spaces to great advantage.

Now California-based artists Jennie Cotterill and Aaron Brown are presenting their exhibit Interlopers, a collection of new two-dimensional and three-dimensional multimedia pieces. The pair was invited to CoRK by Crystal Floyd, an impressive multimedia artist in her own right, and well-respected presence on the Northeast Florida arts scene. Continue reading

Pictures of Home

Our Shared Past blends the personal and universal through the prism of family

["It Was Supposed to be Fun." All original images courtesy of Jefree Shalev.]

[“It Was Supposed to be Fun.” All original images courtesy of Jefree Shalev.]

["A Few Years Later," photograph by Carolyn Brass, 2013.]

[“A Few Years Later,” photograph by Carolyn Brass, 2013.]

The phenomenon of memories can be as slippery and ephemeral as the combination of passing time and thought that lifts them into our consciousness. Does every memory that we keep carry with it some importance and resonance? Why will one recollection occupy our lives while others are overlooked, dismissed or forgotten altogether? Refined through the spectrum of our feelings and emotions, the past can bring us joy, resentment, and even mislead us completely. When combined with nostalgia, that seemingly-universal longing for what can no longer be experienced, a remembrance can even turn into a kind of memorial. Nostalgia can be likened to a funeral where time is buried, yet we still insist on revisiting the headstone, in some weird hope of deciphering these memorials of our past.

And if there is an even greater collective resemblance of memory, it is that they are generally tied into relationships; reveries which seem tethered to our connections to lovers, enemies, our own place in the greater universe, and invariably family. Continue reading

Pattern Energies

Multimedia artist Nida Bangash is featured at Clay and Canvas Studio’s Open Studio Night

[Installation shot of Nida Bangesh's work at Clay and Canvas Studios.]

[Installation shot of Nida Bangash’s work at Clay and Canvas Studio.]

Since December of 2011, artists and educators Lily Kuonen and Tiffany Leach have been presenting their Open Studio Night at their Clay and Canvas Studio located in Riverside. The events are held bi-annually, usually in December and May or November and April, and are a chance for art lovers to visit Kuonen and Leach’s working studio and check out the respective artists’ new work. Yet the pair also uses these events to showcase the work of both emerging and well-known artists. In the past two years, the artists Mark Creegan, Erica Adams, Jessie Gilmartin, and Rachel Evans have all been invited to present original work. While the pieces featured are highly contemporary, these one-night events have been consistently casual and benefit from Leach and Kuonen’s generosity in attempting to bring greater exposure to other artists.

Continue reading

We Can Be Heroes

Photographer Roy Berry chronicles the colorful characters of Fan Cons

[Trekkie and Son.]

[“Trekkie and Son”]

In 1908, a certain Mr. and Mrs. William Fell of Cincinnati, Ohio arrived at a masquerade ball dressed as (respectively) “Mr. Skygack” and “Miss Dillpickles,” two then-popular comic strip characters. Their motivations remain unknown. And whether or not the Fells wound up in the social register or mental asylum is an equal mystery. But their entrance that evening at a Midwestern skating rink decked out in colorful and otherworldly garb is considered the first documented instance of individuals dressing up as science fiction and comic book-born entities.

Fast forward three decades later to 1939. Pioneering science fiction author, editor, publisher, and visionary polymath Forrest J. Ackerman attended that year’s inaugural World Science Fiction Convention in Manhattan donning a “futuristicostume.” In a memoir piece penned by sci-fi author and fellow attendee Dave Kyle, Ackerman arrived at this ground-breaking event with his shirt imprinted with the superhero-like-symbol “4SJ” (as in Forrest J. Ackermann) while “wearing his eye-catching street costume with green cape and baggy breeches.”

Since his death in 2008 at the age of 92, Ackermann has been credited as being the undeniable spearhead in launching genres such as horror and science fiction from the underground world of pulp magazines into the stratosphere of popular culture. Among his many accomplishments, Ackermann coined the term “sci-fi,” helped propel and push the literary and creative careers of writers including Ray Bradbury, Marion Zimmer Bradley, L. Ron Hubbard, as well as über-cult hero Ed Wood, while amassing a personal collection of over 300,000 pieces of memorabilia.

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Game of Thrones

Artist Lee Walton has got you all in check with his upcoming mass chess challenge

[Screen still from Lee Walton's video "Mato Jelic."]

[Screen still from Lee Walton’s video “Mato Jelic.”]

While the art world can be competitive, Lee Walton certainly has racked up some impressive stats. Walton attended undergraduate programs in Sonoma State University, Chico State University, and finally San Jose State University; where he received his BFA. In 2000, Walton then garnered an MFA from the California College of Arts. Since then, the now-39-year-old multimedia artist has been featured in 20-plus solo and group exhibits in venues ranging from Manhattan’s legendary White Columns gallery space to the innovative Raygun Project Space located in Toowoomba, Australia. In the past decade, Walton has also been invited to deliver artist talks, participate as a panel member, and facilitate workshops on such highly-contemporary topics as experiential art, social media, public engagement, psychogeography, and game play in venues including Carnegie Mellon University, Parsons School of Design, and MIT. Walton is currently an Associate Professor of Art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Continue reading