Tuesday, August 18, 2015

weeds words

back again!  never quit!

summer summer summertime

I'm in the TV room of my parents' home, kneeling on the carpet with my laptop on the coffee table, with ice in my glass and poison ivy on my leg.

I'm listening to a youtube sampler of of "appalachian traditional artists" that Jim Lloyd put up on facebook.  It's people pickin' at galax and in living rooms.  It matches the way I feel right now.  A little hyper, and satisfied with where I am.

I've been using my instax camera to try and get some of the lushness of right now in the mountains of Virginia.  I'd like to be able to use words to communicate things like that as well.  Something about fields of corn, something about crows, something about tiny fishes in brown water, something about forest green tunnels, shoes wet with dew in the morning.  Trees and hedges just standing while the insects buzz on and my car motor just runs on.

I heard an interview on the radio recently with that author David Foster Wallace.  He spoke about feeling a fear to express anything earnest in this cultural climate that watches a lot of TV and that uses irony as a personal brand, etc, etc, and I get it, I really get it and that makes me want to read some of his essays.  I picked up his unfinished (not finished before his death) novel The Pale King at the library, and while I eventually gave up and returned it because it was probably too ambitious as my introduction to David Foster Wallace, it did have this very beautiful passage right in the first chapter on the first page where he writes this gorgeous paragraph sentence of meadow weed names.  It runs through my mind a lot especially as I look around here and list in my mind the flowers that I know and as I think about ~*Appalachian*~ themed writing whatever that means.

Like, I know David Foster Wallace was talking about a general midwestern specifically-nonspecific thing and the paragraph in The Pale King is in a context of human structure and that's what makes this block of text with the human names for natural intricacies so effective.  BUT I'm kind of interested in doing exercises about ~*writing what you know*~ and writing about a PLACE and I'm interested in there being Appalachian voices out there in the discourse.

BUT ANYWAY of course this is all a lead-up to me listing weeds:

Jewelweed, red lobelia, ironweed, goldenrod, chickory, sunchoke, aster, comfrey, morning glory, bindweed, mouse ear, sorrel, curly dock, burdock, red clover, queen anne's lace, black-eyed susan, canadian thistle, mustard, rape, blackberry, poison ivy, stinging nettle, yarrow, water hemlock, huckleberry, wineberry, black raspberry, dandelion, daisy, milkweed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Untamed Sense of Control, or; Literally the best thing ever: Roscoe Holcomb

Okay.  Roscoe Holcomb, not to pin too much on one man who was only human, is probably the single most amazing American performer who ever lived???

He kinda looks like the American Gothic fella.

He sounds like nothing you ever heard.

He was from Kentucky.

Roscoe Holcomb was an incredible artist.  If you start to know a bit about American folk music and folk songs, you'll recognize many of his songs.  But that recognition is suffused with something like awe, because there is NO popular tune or song that he sings that sounds like the way anyone else does it.  You know "On Top Of Old Smoky"?  Of course you do, and it's cheesy.  Like on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese.  Well he makes Old Smoky sound kinda dangerous and mournful.  it ain't cheesy.  He plays the guitar like the banjo and the banjo like the guitar.  He's obviously influenced by the blues--if you wanted you might be able to call him a blues performer.

However there's obviously something else besides blues going on in Holcomb's style and repertoire. That something else is Primitive Baptist singing.  Here's Roscoe with the Stanley brother's singing "Village Churchyard"-- or rather, a fragment of it.  you can hear Holcomb deliver the definitive complete version, solo, on his album.  That version speaks of grief, desolation, and a cold & distant hope in mind-bendingly slow, drawn-out syllables that radiate a spiritual electricity, and I'm going to stop describing now because words fail me when it comes to how brilliant R.H. is.

Anyway here's 3 dudes singing together, in a good illustration of the Primitive Baptist style.  No harmonies are used in that tradition, but you can hear in this recording how the 3 singers aren't matching every line with each other perfectly.  that's part of it.  the ornaments like a held-out note or a decorative trill remain individual and cascade around each other, creating a sort of ad hoc polyphony, while the core melody stays the same.

Okay?  Okay.  Those Stanley brothers's aren't so bad at singing either.  Fun fact: one time the Stanley Brothers and Roscoe Holcomb played 2 different versions of the same song.  After the brothers heard Roscoe's version, they said, "Well....at least we got the words right."  Now take a listen to some religious singing in Scots Gaelic.  Why is this relevant, you ask?  It's the ancestor of the religion and the music you've just been hearing.

That's fun and all from a music-history standpoint, yes.  in my opinion it tells us a lot about the emergence of bluegrass music and what we think of as the High Lonesome Sound, and what we think of as an Appalachian style of singing.  it's also musically riveting.  because no matter what he was singing or performing, Holcomb conveys a vibrating tension that people really respond to, and it lives in those ornaments and long-held notes.


"The year that I started trying to learn to play a banjo and it was pretty hard times...hard for men to get work and so...I asked God to give me something that I could do...that I could make a little money. Twelve months from the time I started playing with this old fiddler, I learned I guess around 400 hundred tunes and could sing practically every one of them. That's why I say it is a gift, and I believe that God give it to me and I believe it enough...that I'm gonna let Him take it."

It would be possible, in my opinion, to mis-read this quote badly.  "Oh wow, he gets his tension from his desperate lot in life, and the pressure to use his music to earn money to feed himself and his family," one could say.  But I think that would be underestimating him.  Not to say that he didn't have a hard life -- he did.  Don't we all.  He did work that was hard and hazardous till he couldn't anymore, and he had a hard time getting by.  He lived in what was then and is now one of the poorest parts of the country.  But the important thing here is that he saw his 'untamed sense of control' (as Bob Dylan famously put it) as coming from a deep connection with his creator.

So, we could talk about 'authentic' all day.  But here's what I'm gonna say: Roscoe Holcomb wasn't futzing around.  Because he saw his music as a gift, from the highest possible source, he treated it with dignity.  He ain't winking at you (not that a wink is bad).  He's giving away something precious.  I can't know for sure what he meant by "I'm gonna let Him take it".  But to me that quote conveys a letting go, a release that is one of the things that makes art beautiful.  To say, "this art does not belong to me--I'm only a vessel."  That shows true grace.  And that's what Roscoe Holcomb had, amongst all his hardships and the weirdness of being discovered and becoming popular to a mainly pretty odd niche of people.  And what I'M saying is, his stuff is GOLD and you should put it in your ears and it will make you feel feelings and think thoughts.  That is all. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

returning in no hurry


I wonder what's drawing me back here.  perhaps the suggestion from my esteemed art-partner to 'journal'.  perhaps I've been home long enough, alone, rattling around the kitchen and lounging in my orange armchair with novels, getting restless and wanting to make something, combine something, put words into a rectangle out of the floating images and streams in the mind.

That is, I mean to say, hello!  if you're reading this (hi Dad), hello.  I've been traveling and then staying home and milking goats and then reading books and baking cake sometimes, and talking to people and also learning the guitar a bit, a very little bit.  And I took some walks.

(c) Elizabeth LaPrelle 2013 on that image above, I guess.  I don't know how this stuff works, but I made that thing.  it's a whole little book, maybe I'll get the rest of it up here soon.  it has the dubious distinction of being something that I made without any help from start to finish!

Monday, September 30, 2013

dream: nurturing

September 5, 2013

I dreamed I gave birth and labor wasn’t so bad.  I laid there  in a bed in a cabin at summer camp and they came and told me it was a girl.  I got up and could walk around.  I met Anna and I told her it’s a girl!  I was sure it was going to be a girl!  I was proud of my intuition.  She didn’t really care about that though.  I was a little disappointed, because this was actually a virgin birth and so there would be no dad around, and I realized then that I had kind of hoped Anna would help me bring up the baby, but now I knew she wasn’t into that at all.

So Anna and I went off and did stuff all day.  I came back to camp in the evening and I had sort of forgotten about my kid, not forgotten but just kind of been like, eh, she’s fine.  And then I got worried and felt guilty, I was meeting all these people who were like, congratulations!  and I saw Mom and she was like, hey, where’s the baby?  And I kind of laughed and I was like, I don’t know!  Anna and I have been working all day!  And then I was even more worried because I hadn’t fed her all day, and what about colostrum, that’s for people too right, not just cows and goats?  when did the window close for giving your baby those vital nutrients in your milk?  Why hadn’t I read the baby books, why didn’t I know?  Why hadn’t I just stayed with the kid, or at least fed her before I left?

So I went to the nurse’s cabin and there were all these cute fat happy babies that I kept seeing in decreasing age order, and I knew mine was the youngest, so I kept looking past all these blond baby girls and then inside a little kinda bassinet baby-shelter thing there were the youngest babies and I rummaged around for the smallest baby, the smallest one must be mine.  I found her and she had lots of black hair cut short like a little boy’s, and she had dark skin, like maybe someone from India would have.  This confused me for a second, I guess I expected a pale baby, but then I thought, Well, I have no idea who the father is!  This makes as much sense as anything!

She was emaciated skinny, with sad eyes.  She was definitely the smallest but she looked older in her face, like an old man.  like sometimes you see those heartbreaking pictures on TV of starving kids with old old faces.  I felt even more guilty.  Maybe I had completely screwed up this kid for life.  So I pulled up my green t-shirt (I know exactly which shirt it was) and just as soon as I picked her up I gave her my nipple not to waste any more time.  It felt very natural and proprietary, holding her, like “yep. this is my baby.”  I was sad for the hours I’d already missed of her life.  And she was hungry, she drank, thank god.  She immediately shat the milk out into my tiny russian shoulder-strap purse (I know exactly which purse) and I was a little worried but mostly relieved.  Like, oh good, the plumbing works!  And her eyes looked brighter after that, although I kind of wished she would get fat and happy before my eyes.  I thought, If I’m lucky I just have to be patient and keep feeding her and she’ll get fat and happy and stop looking old.

Friday, September 13, 2013

power of association

So!  Central Asia.

I got back about a week ago from Uzbekistan, this having been my second voyage to that general part of the world.  In many ways it was truly amazing, but for me it couldn't have the special place in my heart that Georgia did and does.  I actually feel a bit guilty because some of my favorite Uzbek hang-outs were accomplished with Georgians, pressing my nostalgia buttons, rather than digging myself into a new experience/place/culture.  But know what?  I don't feel that guilty.  And I sure as heck don't feel surprised.  It's pretty natural for me to seek out environments where I feel more at home, more familiar, more secure.  And I am not one who wants to forget important past moments.  I want them, if anything, to remain important, to crop up later in life with a sense of narrative circling.  I also think I just like the mountains better than the desert.


One thing I perhaps should have predicted but didn't, two years ago in Georgia, was the effect of what I was reading on my memories of that time.

I've noticed this more and more as I write letters, that if I'm reading a novel (more often than not what I'm reading is a novel), the ideas and the style often re-surface in some way in what I write.  Maybe here too--y'all can let me know if this post sounds like Haruki Murakami at all, that's the novel I finished today.  So what I'm reading apparently has a more profound effect on my moods and thought-shapes than I previously thought.  This fact occurred to me with particular strength during one of the evening concerts at the festival in Samarkand.  There were groups from many nations there, and everyone got a chance to perform on the big stage.  On the night when us Americans got to be in the audience, one of the groups was the Georgians.  They rocked, of course.  Georgian singing, especially in person, has an incredibly arresting effect on me, ever since the very first time I heard it after touching down in Georgia.  To me it's incredibly exciting, seeming to me to be this paradoxical mix of the ethereal and the earthy.  Something about the timbre of the voices, the strength and dexterity of the attack, the intervals, I'm not sure how to explain it but it seems to work on several emotional levels at once.  A blend of austere and sensual?  I wrote about it the first time I heard about it two phrases that don't seem compatible: "Salt of the earth" and "Music of  the spheres".  I don't know if anyone else experiences it like that, but it really gets me every time.

Anyway I was sitting listening to their short set, and thinking about spheres and visualizing astrolabes and revolving planets and orbs and ellipses of precious metals and space and time and galaxies and alchemical diagrams....and then I went, hang on, alchemical diagrams?

But of course.  When I traveled to Georgia, where I stayed for 3 weeks learning songs and climbing mountains and drinking wine, the only book I took with me was Jung's Psychology and Alchemy.  One memorable afternoon I read it aloud to a roomful of college students after a long ride in an open-back six-axel army vehicle--imagine riding for hours in the back of a dump-truck on wooden benches over a gravel road and you'll be in the headspace--and it sent everyone, including me, into a cool, irresistible sleep.  I mean, the book is dense.  I don't remember half of it, and I'm fairly sure I didn't comprehend a third.  I chose Psychology and Alchemy partly because I didn't want a novel with an arresting story to keep me up at night and be finished too quickly, and it did work admirably for that.  But the imagery of weird medieval and renaissance pen-and-ink drawings of suns and moon and goblets and crucibles and naked bodies and concentric circles have bonded with my experience of Georgian music on some fundamental level.

Which I think is awesome!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

more is less

I love the name of July.  I love the way it sounds.  Ju-ly.  Thick, unequivocal summer.  If June was thunder and lightning, smoke and tender leaves, July is full walls of green, gentler rains.  And crotch shots.

The cherries are ripe, they are the sweetest this year that I've known.  My sister's in the valley and we made a pie.  I don't really understand the phrase "easy as pie".  It's one of the harder things to make in my opinion, especially when you pick and pit the cherries yourself, which is by turns hot and neck-cricking and tedious and and bloody-looking.  The pie was very handsome though, and tasty.  Though I think we all know that nothing is ever as delicious as right off the tree, spittin the pits.  Is it a sign of greed to take more cherries than you can eat in one sitting and then make them into something richer and a bit less tasty?  Or is it a sign of thrift to make use of the glut while it's here, even if it doesn't give as pure a pleasure as serene, chimp-like, hand-to-mouth eating?

We had the first party in the yellow house!  Many songs sung on the porch in voices loud and soft, many beautiful friends cavorting on my lawn.  Later in the night we jumped in the pond and shivered and smoked ourselves over a little fire.  I walked home.  Going by starlight forces me to look up instead of down at my feet.  There was breathtaking lightning in the eastern sky, it looked like a giant, instantaneous orb.

I went up to Kentucky to Cowan Creek, it was just as magical as everyone said.  I built a fairy house and I talked to people about ballads, I forgot how good that feels.  Sooo good.  Anna was in her element, maybe a bit stressed but having fun and doing everything head-on.  She's a wonder.

Major goat milestone: If I sneak away from Stevie, I can leave her in the open pasture with the other goats instead of in the small pen.  Life is so much better this way since she has more forage, more exercise, and more time to develop herd dynamics with Hazel and Norah.  She cries much, much less and is an all around chiller goat.  This also means I can keep the small pen open so that any of the three goats can at any time run to the hutch for shelter or go to their water tub to take a drink.  It's still not perfect--if I'm not sneaky enough Stevie will still follow me, leaping silently between the two bottom electrical strands of the gate.  I try to be very surly when I toss her back in, making sure she at least brushes the zappers, hoping she will learn.  We finally ran out of goat formula and figure it's as good a time to wean as any, especially now that she has the opportunity to browse.  Her horns are coming in nicely, making her seem especially devilish!  What rites can we dream up for her?

As content as I am sitting here now, writing this, I still know how fragile I am.  I have...some problems...or...changes...happening.  With a relationship.  I mentioned how unmoored I feel to friend A, and she spoke so compassionately that my eyes filled with tears.  I wrote a letter about it to Z.  I figure, if I'm going to be open...keep going.  Like, be open with everyone that you can.  When did this become a novel concept??

Enough for now.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the heart

the only way to talk about it is to talk about something else.

summer fever.  fattening up like a bear in summer, summer fruit.  long days, hay-making.

an enormous, earth-shaking clap of thunder woke me up last night, had me gasping and bracing my hand on the sheet as first the sound rolled over my mind, and then the image came merging with the book I was reading on Henry VIII and ending up with huge Cardinal Wolsey; then as my reason started to think about cause and effect I imagined the tree, surely only yards away from my window, that must be smoking in the wake of this lightning-strike.  This morning of course nobody else had heard the thunder.

my emotions coming up to surprise me, and my own efforts not to judge them, and not to wallow in the cold, leviathan-laden, scorpio-moon sea I keep under the surface.  I even tried, tried, clumsily tried to communicate them.  keep trying.

back into astrology, finding out more of my fire rabbit nature in Chinese astrology.  the weird thing is applying the same ideas to other people born in the same year.

I've been reading books for pleasure, I've been journaling.  Right now is a bit like time off (more like time off than it should be, to be truthful) from the folk-singing job.

I sleep down in the house they called Long Tall Sally, the yellow house.  A woman named Ruby who used to live there and also used to take care of my dad when he was little came to visit.  She's very beautiful!  White hair, clear face, clear eyes, still strong and balance in gait.  She wanted to get around and start weeding, righting fallen lawn chairs.  She was working in a fancy department store and my grandmother Mary came in to pick up some stuff and that was when they met and became friends.  They were bohemians! I like imagining this.

Couple of songs from Ireland I'm slowly working on, I can share soon.