Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Went

I brooked no bonds.  I threw off all restraint,

and went.  Toward enjoyments that were half

real--half ruminations of my brain,

into the illuminated night I went.

And of strong wines I drank boldly, as drink

they who seek after pleasure and are brave.

C.P. Cavafy.

(guess what it's about Georgia for me)

Monday, December 19, 2011


Well, y'all.

I'm going to just describe some awesome experiences of the past year/ six months/ whatever.  I have mentioned that I've been working closely with the Very Excellent Vermonter, Anna Roberts-Gevalt.  And boy, have we gone places!

Kentucky.  Anna spent a couple years in the Bluegrass State researching women fiddlers.  We went back to show our crankie to a wonderful woman, Letha, who knew the fiddler Lella Todd.  Our crankie illustrates things Letha said about growing up near Lella, who used to play with all the neighborhood kids.  If you're into that kind of thing, Anna put together a website of all her interviews, which are beautiful pieces of folklore in their own right,  If you want to see the crankie about Lella, here's a link to a video:
and an image to help you along:

Below is Letha's brother, on the porch of a log cabin he reconstructed.  I don't know how to communicate the sense of peace and easy-breathing that permeated this place.  It was the midst of a really busy time for Anna and me, and I was stressing out; but that place, little by little, eased my burden.  He and his wife manage a beautiful garden with maybe ten kinds of heirloom tomatoes.  As we were leaving he took his cane and knocked down and  broke open some Asian chestnuts, and handed them to us all gleamy.

And here's Anna and Letha in the quiet graveyard, at Lella Todd's grave:

Here is the red velvet couch where Lella used to keep her instruments.  Letha has it in her living-room.

Here is a little lesson on Old-Time Music Culture.  It's one of the most important features, as far as I'm concerned.  It's a little thing called: Legacy.

Yes, while many cultures (especially Youth cultures, amirite?) are busy Rejecting the Man and spitting on their parents, Old-Time kids are seeking out geezers and geeking out Caesars--I mean, geeking out over scratchy recordings made decades before they were born.  Emmett Lundy (amazing fiddler from Galax, VA) talked about following around a man he called "Old Man Green Leonard".  Lundy was still a young man when Leonard died.  Green Leonard had been very protective of his tricks at the fiddle, but Emmett was persistent in trying to pick up all that he could.  The last time they met, tears came Leonard's eyes when he said that Emmett Lundy was the only one who had tailed him and learned his licks.  He had never taught them to anyone else.

I think the days of secretive fiddlers are a little past, but the idea of passing on a way of art, and especially of keeping a way, is a real force at work in the old-time music community.  I'm sure it's part of why the community is so supportive of children and beginners.  I saw the same thing one time when I went to the Chickahominy pow-wow when I was in college.  Many of us American types are afraid that we're just a few steps shy of tradition completely slipping away.

I went on a big fancy tour one time, and Sammy Shelor was there (Am I bragging?  Yes.), and I'll tell you that the tears came to my eyes when he said late one night, "You seem like somebody who spent a lot of time with their grandparents."  He told me about times he had spent with his older relatives, driving trucks.  I wished then, and I still wish now, that I had asked more of my grandparents when they were alive.  They were some of the best people I knew, and I took their wisdom for granted.

I say this not to guilt you; but as an encouragement--give it a try.  Old people really like talking to young people.  They know things.  They have hilarious memories.  It's not like you have to love banjos, or music from the 50s, or antique tractors--but I bet you will find something that interests you.  In this era of the whole "local food!  local business!" thing, how about a little local hanging-out?  A little local culture?  You could find out about your hometown.  You could get to know your neighbors, and then they will be more likely to share their canned foods with you when the apocalypse comes.

Yes readers, Visit somebody!  They will teach you their skills!  The other thing about old people is that they are super grateful.  When you visit them, they will feed you up, with veggies from their garden.  (Foods I have received from visiting old-time musicians: pickles; relish; pickles again; relish again; home-grown tomatoes; sumac tea; brownies; pimento cheese; borscht; angel-food cake with strawberry sauce; hot soup.)  They will give you a hug, and invite you back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Visionary, Outsider, Naive, Folk, Innocent, Brut


One of the amazing things about working with my rock-steady home-girl sistah-from-another-mistah Anna is that we share an easy geek-out enthusiasm for personalities and talents, especially ones that are high on kooky and low on ego.  For example, our friend Caleb Stine (songwriter and humanist extraordinaire) introduced us to the art of Loring Cornish of Baltimore, MD.  Check out Loring's mirrored house:

And his studio:

We have been very lucky to explore (thanks in large part to Crankies, home-made performance-art of the future!) the wonderful world of..."visionary art".  And just what is visionary art?  Well, friend, it's hard for me to say.  But here's what Aunt Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

" produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." -American Visionary Art Museum

Nice.  Very nice.  And how about this..."art brut"?

Dubuffet characterized "art brut" as:
"Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade."

Oh my, Dubuffet.  Stop it, you're making me a little flushed.  When we visited the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, "flourishings of an exalted feverishness" was the order of the day.  Indeed, this was an aspect of art that had been percolating in the back of my mind ever since I encountered the work of James Hampton:
Why, yes; that would be life-size religious-themed altar, ark of the covenant, thrones and stuff, all made of cigar-bands and other found foil.  This kind of work fills me with awe, and also...discomfort.  I don't don't think I have this kind of work in me.  When I imagine the focus and time and the saving of every bit of foil for years and makes my spine a little tickly.
Here's something that to my mind is similar.  This artist beaded her kitchen:

Folk art encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic.[1]. Folk Art is characterized by a naive style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed. Closely related terms are Outsider Art, Self-Taught Art and Naïve art.

Did you really just say, "peasant"?  Never mind.  Primarily utilitarian--like an amazing blanket or vase.  I do love that stuff.  I don't think it's quite the same somehow as the towering individualism of the visionary art, but whatever.  Lines are blurry.  Let's take little look at Naive art, shall we?

Naïve art is a classification of art that is often characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique. While many naïve artists appear, from their works, to have little or no formal art training, this is often not true. The words "naïve" and "primitive" are regarded as pejoratives and are, therefore, avoided by many.

Haha, what? (sorry Auntie Wiki--it must be said) the example picture for "childlike simplicity" is this:
Are you kidding?
The Lion's Repast by Henri Rousseau?
And this seems like a good place to break.  But I hope to return to this topic later, and of course (you know me) RELATE IT TO BALLADS.