Jul 15, 2015
All I need now to get my ashes hauled
-- "Ice Man," Memphis Minnie
Memphis Minnie,” Lucy said. She had scolded him and chided him and now set about to teach him, about life and the blues, about women and men, and what one poet of the dark chord called the stuff you gotta watch. “Her real name was Lizzie Douglas, from down in Louisiana. She sang ice man, ice man, come on up. My, oh. And she sang about her butcher man and her strange man and another man who was a sandhog in the sea. I don't know what a sandhog is, but anyhow he died. Reckon he drowned doing a sandhog’s dirty business. But what’s one man, more or less? Minnie didn’t need ’em none, just kind of liked having ’em around. But only kind of. She’d cut a man if he crossed her. I mean, drain him pale. Slice me if I’m lying, Billy Heavens. Minnie, she went through men enough to fill this cemetery. Corpses stacked double, men piled high.”
She stopped and turned to face him, as if to watch the chill settle on him. It was the first little bit of power she’d had in life. “You looking a little drained yourself there, Billy.” She felt a bit woozy, herself.
-- from my novel, "The Very Last Night"
Blues Hall of Fame, now open down on South Main in Memphis. You should haul your ass there, first chance.
Jul 5, 2015
― from "Light in August"
― from a description of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, in "American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit," by Clay Risen
The old woman nudged with her scuffed sneakers a dusty, black manual typewriter. The keys were marked with flaking, gold letters, and the space bar listed heavily to one side, the right, like a seesaw at rest. She nudged the typewriter as if it might pick up the story from there.
“When he lived over to Oxford,” she said finally. “That’s when he owned this particular one. Rowan Oak, the house where he lived. Mr. Faulkner wrote 'Light in August' on this typewriter.”
― from "Typewriters of the Stars," a chapter in my novel, "The Very Last Night"
-- from "Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice," Robert Moor, The Paris Review (Dec. 31, 2013)
― from "Light in August"
― review of "Light in August" by George Grimes in the Omaha World-Herald, Oct. 9, 1932
― review of "Light in August" by Henry George Hoch, Detroit News, Oct. 16, 1932
― review of "Light in August" by Barry Bingham, The Courier-Journal, Nov. 20, 1932
― from "Light in August"
Jun 29, 2015
without a crow flying by
-- "The Way It Will Be," Gillian Welch
One minute passed, taking slightly more than its allotted time. An unseen crow mocked the minute and the seconds that made it so.
The crow cawed proverbs and river stages. The crow cawed sermons of doom. And the boy wondered how much farther to the devil’s place.
“Up over the rise and down again, Billy Heavens, if you dare,” Lucy sang. “Up over the rise and down, Billy, if you do.”
-- from "The Very Last Night"
Jun 22, 2015
Out beyond the twinklin’ stars
Ridin’ first-class trains, makin' the rounds
Tryin’ to keep from fallin’ between the cars
-- "Po' Boy," Bob Dylan
Joe walked up to the window and said it how he’d practiced it.
“Eighth race,” he said in a slow, flat, unsteady voice. “Twenty to win on the seven dog.”
A woman pushing fifty with peach-colored hair and a Viceroy rasp took his money and handed him a slip. She did not inquire as to why a man would chance his last twenty dollars on the cross-eared red fawn with those soft haunches and an underbody the color of jalopy rust. She had to know it was something like this, even just knowing the dogs as numbers on a screen. Any woman who ever had looked into any man’s eyes could see it was the last shred of money he had in the world, and that the man knew, too, in his head and his heart, deep in his gut, down to his own soft haunches, that he was pissing it away. She might even have guessed the name of the dog, by looking at the man.
“Good luck, hon,” she said.
Joe stood there, still, staring at the betting slip as if there might be some small print upon it that explained what he was to do next. As he studied the slip, his lips seeming to move or perhaps tremble, she wanted to tell him it was a dog race he’d come to, not a Chinese meal. But she’d been warned by management about her mouth.
“They’s about to run,” she said, to shoo him.
It was then he told her, if only because he had to tell someone.
“It’s the old man,” Joe said. “My father, I mean. My daddy. He’s dying, down in New Orleans. I got to go down to see him, before – well, I got to get the money up, for fare. Bus or train. Bus, I guess, would be cheaper.”
He wanted to tell her more. He wanted to tell it all. He wanted her to ask. But she only said, “Well, I surely do hope he gets better, hon.”
Joe turned and walked away.
“It ain’t even about that,” he said to himself, to no one.
-- from "Poor Boy, Long Way from Home"
Stronger than the sun
But that day ain't yet come
-- "Poor Boy, Minor Key," M. Ward
May 20, 2015
-- from "Five Night Stand," Richard Alley
Apr 13, 2015
-- from "No Place For You, My Love"
The distant point of the ridge, like the tongue of a calf, put its red lick on the sky.
-- from "Losing Battles"
-- from "Delta Wedding"
"Why, that ain't like Hazel," Virgil said.
William Wallace reached out and shook him. "You heard me. Don't you know we have to drag the river?"
"Right this minute?"
-- from "The Wide Net"
-- from "One Writer's Beginnings"
Apr 7, 2015
the fields are soft and green
It's memories that I'm stealing
but you're innocent when you dream
"Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)," Tom Waits
-- from "The Very Last Night"
Mar 2, 2015
Make a hard shell preacher fall from grace
-- "Kentucky Moonshiner," Fruit Jar Guzzlers
-- from the story, "Sanctuary & Desire in the American South"
Feb 9, 2015
The books in the picture are from a nice little weekend haul at a local used-book store. The Tom Waits song is from the movie version of Larry Brown's "Big Bad Love," which my wife calls "Big Bad Movie." I understand why -- it's a movie about a writer as a fairly lousy human being. He busts up his family, drinks to the point of fighting, and generally can't get, or keep, his shit together. I love it, still and all, for all sorts of reasons, from the Mississippi setting with its high kudzu count to the soundtrack with R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford, Tom Waits and Steve Earle. I especially like that it's a movie about a writer in which the writer actually writes during the movie. Typewriters were harmed in the making of this film!
For the record, though: I do fully disagree with the premise that you have to be a shitheel to be a successful writer (and by successful, I just mean write great books), despite this movie and all the real-life evidence that suggest otherwise, and of course that thing Faulkner said:
The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.
Jan 27, 2015
and they're red hot
Yeah, she got 'em
-- "They're Red Hot," Robert Johnson
She came upon a country crossroads. She parked the car and joined a line twelve deep to buy tamales from a little trailer painted pepper-red with yellow writing all about it, quoting satisfied customers, famous regulars, and scripture. Ivy would not have thought there lived twelve people in a twenty-mile radius of this place, but she knew tamales in the Mississippi Delta-style could draw crowds from miles away, from other states and time zones, seats of foreign power. Delta lore held that tamales were the one thing both God and the Devil called good, that if those two ever held a summit to bring about some peaceful accord, they wouldn’t break bread, but instead Saltine crackers, over saucers of the house specialty from Doe’s Eat Place or maybe Hick’s Famous. Well, that was the Delta lore – or maybe just something Ivy’s mama made up, from scratch.
-- from my novel, "Ivy Coldwater"
Dec 15, 2014
-- Chuck Reece, writing for The Bitter Southerner about Dust--to-Digital's "Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings, 1947-1959"
I'm going down to Memphis
when I get my 'role
Stand on the levee
and hear the big boats blow
-- "I'm Going to Memphis," Percy Wilson (aka Buzzard) and group, from the Parchman recordings
You can bust your feet
You can rock this joint
But oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend now?
-- Dylan in the basement with The Band, singing "Crash on the Levee (Take 1)"
-- from my novel-in-progress, "Ivy Coldwater"
Sturgill Simpson, out of Kentucky, sounding like an existential Waylon Jennings (or one of the boys in the basement), singing, "So don't waste your mind on nursery rhymes / or fairy tales of blood and wine / It's turtles all the way down the line."
The list ...
1. "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music," Sturgill Simpson
2. "Jim Mize," Jim Mize
3. "Water Liars," Water Liars
4. "If The Roses Don’t Kill Us," Christopher Denny
5. "Small Town Heroes," Hurray for the Riff Raff
6. "Wine Dark Sea," Jolie Holland
7. "Blind Water Finds Blind Water," Adam Faucett
8. "Runaway's Diary," Amy LaVere
9. "Everlasting Arms," Luke Winslow-King
10. "English Oceans," Drive-By Truckers
11. "Here Be Monsters," Jon Langford & Skull Orchard
12. "Most Messed Up," Old 97's
13. "Wild Animals," Trampled by Turtles
14. "Rock 'n Roll Blues," Luther Dickinson
15. "Prospect Hill," Dom Flemons
16. "Night Surfer," Chuck Prophet
17. "The River and the Thread," Rosanne Cash
18. "...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin," The Roots
19. "Half the City," St. Paul & the Broken Bones
20. "Dark Night of the Soul," Jimbo Mathus
21. "Popular Problems," Leonard Cohen
22. "Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth," Otis Gibbs
23. "The Littlest Prisoner," Jenny Scheinman
24. "Benji," Sun Kil Moon
25. "Lazaretto," Jack White
26. "Swimmin’ Time," Shovels & Rope
27. "The No-Hit Wonder," Cory Branan
28. (tie) "Common Ground," Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin; "Tarpaper Sky," Rodney Crowell; and "Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone," Lucinda Williams; "Dereconstructed," Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires
Dec 7, 2014
Keep away from the corners, hear what I got to say
Hold a-one hand only, get a-ready for a ride
Give me one hand loose and I'll be satisfied
-- "One Hand Loose," Charlie Feathers
She didn’t know about sharing a joint, the etiquette of such. She didn’t think you could just tear it in half. She guessed you’d just pass it back and forth, and maybe their hands would brush, in the exchange. Maybe one of their fingers would get burned and the other would kiss it. That’s how it would begin – the start of them – and so they’d have to make up another story, one not involving an outlaw crop, to tell to their children when they asked how the two of them met. She was, she thought, getting far ahead of herself.
-- from my novel, "Poor Boy, Long Way From Home"
A dark man in a cream-colored suit appeared, and then they were dancing, and the house orchestra played one wild rag and then another, and then slowed it down for a torch number – a leaving song, a sad lament – and he had his hand on the small of her bare back. She couldn’t get a look at his face, for hers buried in the crook of his neck. He smelled like whiskey, gun powder, train smoke, typewriter ribbon, gumbo with fresh okra, the Gulf of Mexico. He spoke, but not words; it was as if he were humming in some foreign tongue. Ivy felt trade winds upon her neck. He kissed her there. She smelled spice routes and summer rain, and trouble, of a sort.
-- from my novel-in-progress, "Ivy Coldwater"
Nov 12, 2014
I've worked like heck, and been worked like heck, folks
I've been drunk and got others drunk
Lost all I had and part of my furniture
Because I want to go around now
and spend what little I earn,
and go beg, borrow and steal,
talked to and talked about,
lied to and lied about,
held up and hung up,
and I'm doggone nigh murdered
-- "Arkansas Hard Luck Blues," Lonnie Glosson, a 1936 talking blues from the Dust-to-Digital compilation "Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers"
Nov 3, 2014
-- Lewis Nordan, "The Sharpshooter Blues"
You need a little something to save your soul
Come on down to Cemetery Road
-- "Cemetery Road," Fred Eaglesmith
-- from my novel "Poor Boy, Long Way From Home"
2. "Cemetery Polka," Tom Waits
3. "Prayer of Death, Part 1," Charley Patton
4. "Cemetery Road," Fred Eaglesmith
5. "O Death," Bessie Jones
6. "Hymn No. 101," Joe Pug
7. "Death Don't Have No Mercy," Ramblin' Jack Elliott
8. "Country Cemetery," Tift Merritt
9. "The Death of Sis Draper," Guy Clark
10. "Mexican Home," John Prine
11. "Funeral Song for Mississippi John Hurt," John Fahey & His Orchestra
12. "Funeral Road Blues," Charlie Parr
13-14. "Blessed Assurance" and "Let the Mystery Be," Iris DeMent
As the throttle on a funeral train
-- "Mexican Home," John Prine