Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How I got there

Listening to Lucero, thanks to Dave R. long ago and Tom Gabel from Against Me! (Thanks again, Dave) covered this little song called "Wagon Wheel." And my future-roommate had this album called OCMS that he played once or twice in the background on car trips.

And then there was early 2008 and feeling horrible and lonely in a dorm. Matt Dellinger's article in Oxford American contained this passage,

The plan was to drive across the continent and earn their keep busking on the streets, playing for gas money and food. It's the type of ten-thousand-mile joyride every desperate or idealistic band tells itself it will do. Most lack the requisite live-free-or-die instinct or zeal for North American nowheres, but these boys are touched with both. Ketch fondly remembers waking up one early November morning in a hay field near the border of Manitoba and Ontario with frost on his bedroll. They drove in to Winnipeg that day and bought then usual groceries: lunch meat, cheese, white bread, mustard, peanuts, and a jug of water. They played all day and drank free coffee and made a hundred dollars, and a television crew stumbled upon them and put them on the six o'clock news. They spent the night at some college party, where a kid with a beard sang Phil Ochs songs and Ketch kissed a girl who'd seen him on TV. Three months of this, Ketch says, and they never went to bed hungry.

Old Crow Medicine Show started off breaking my heart a little more than comforting me. But maybe that was the dorm talking. Maybe that was the people who were so suffocatingly my age. The ones I was supposed to enjoy the company of were choking and depressing me. The girls who steered me into their group and did nothing but talk shit about everything non-stop. No humor, no angle, just rubbish and vomit and complaining.

I walked to Border's and bought OCMS and Big Iron World at once. Then the message boards. Like every new obsession, I had to seek out those who shared it. I started off as the pip-squeak new fan. I remain it, relatively speaking.

But it started with S.T. messaging me before the Morgantown, WV show. Urging me to get a brew with him before the show. Little then-22-year-old-me being invited with the grown-ups.

And suddenly there were better poems. There was first tastes of moonshine. There was learning about John Prine, Tommy Jarrell, Charlie Poole, Justin Townes Earle. There were always more songs.

J.K. and S.T. played their old time music in 103 degree Richmond weather. They played it on the cold porch in Nashville, Tennessee.

I could say so much more about it, say it better. But somehow one band and one piece of the internet led me to being barefoot in Tennessee for a whole day. A few sips of moonshine, chicken, collard greens, all the perfect cliches you could hope for.

No haystacks yet. But I got this far.

The despair of that dorm, the first time Old Crow clicked...Between then and now is Greyhound and Megabuses, strangers on the buses, sleeping with T. in the Montana meadow, adventures climbing Frisco hills, front row at the Ryman with S.T. in Nashville, riding in the Crow Wagon listening to some good tunes and feeling like yeah, not the best friend, always the kid, but it was okay I was there. I was enough in myself that I could be there. And at the little house we rented in Nashville, S.S. gave me a knowing look and at the end of the night said "It was more than 90 seconds this time." I got my Nashville. I got my New Years.

I may never get to fully thank Willie or Ketch. But I suspect they started something very good here.

I can tell the Not Friends, though. And I believe they'll understand. Which means plenty.

I shoulda told this better but I got a burst of optimism in the middle of trying to avoid my school work. I'll tell more tales later, perhaps.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Virginia man


I look at pictures and I am puzzled that I was the one behind the camera. It has already become a blur, which means several things -- it was fun, it was fast, and it was foreign.

The boyfriend and I were cozy, so it was hard to leave. And it's already a bit of a stomach drop to leave on a Greyhound at midnight. It got worse in Baltimore at 4 am. That's when I start to doubt my own self. The supposed identity of, at least, someone who loves to travel. But then I transferred to a comfier bus where I got two seats. I fell asleep staring out the window and when I woke up the Virginia sun was on my face.

I arrived at 8:30 in the morning. I asked a cabby where More Street was, since I was deathly in need of coffee (and, for reasons hard to explain, I wanted to feel like I was my own traveler before being fetched by S.T.) I shouldered my big old backpack just like I have always pictured and walked. The buildings were old and lovely. The streets were empty and more industrial than commercial. Some guy walked behind me (which always prickles my neck) and said something. I kept walking somewhat nervously. He just wanted to know if it was hot enough for me.

I sat at the More Street Cafe. I ordered bacon, eggs, coffee and pancakes. The waitress and the woman behind the counter were friendly. I overheard Southern and other accents. On the television the horrible news suggested calling a tip line if I spotted the pictured woman. She apparently grew a lot of weed plants.

S.T. and T.R. (not the president, thankfully) arrived. I felt shy, but not like I was suddenly over my head in anything. Going to visit people you don't know is strange. On the bus, and the days before, it had become some impossible thing. I'm a girl, I can't be trusting strange men to not cut me into little pieces.

But I trust my mama's instincts and to a lesser extent my own. If I learn to separate my anxiety and paranoia from my instincts, I might be okay with this stuff.

Anyway. I was steered into the infamous Old Crow wagon which S.T. bought some years ago. It was a friendly van, worthy of its impressive legacy. Not a creeper van. When I got inside, possibly because I sharing the backseat with Willie Watson's signature, I decided this couldn't have been a bad plan. If I was in the back of a van with a stranger and a man I was meeting for the third time and I didn't feel unsafe, I was powerful.

As the temperature rose to dance in the early triple digits, I was steered around Richmond. We saw Monument Row, with its grandiose General Lee, Washington, and other heroes. We saw the Confederate congress. The grave of Jefferson Davis. S.T. bent down in one graveyard to rip grass off the grave of a fellow (I've lost track of him already) he's fond of. I had a moment of wanting to help, but figured that might have been disrespectful. I do like anybody who will bend down to clean off a grave.

Throughout the day there was weed and chicken. We passed the James River and it was just beautiful. There were railroad track beside it and lovely trees. My camera finger itched. There were Southern trees I couldn't identify, antebellum houses... It all came together and said, this is not home. You, Lucy, are in a foreign place. Is it any wonder I didn't call my mother and boyfriend?

We saw Civil War photos, Confederate currency (always a great way to make it real, at least for me), and -- though I'm conflicted on the conflict - a truly nauseating statue of Lincoln playing around with a little kid. (Rule of thumb, president plus child is always creepy.)

Eventually we went back to S.T.'s place to meet J.K., who plays fiddle while S.T. plays guitar. They busk a lot. I have never found a busker as good as they are. We drank some amazing iced tea and ate our chicken. J.K. and S.T. started playing tunes. Moonshine in a mason jar (yes some things are that perfect) was brought out. I looked at S.T.'s photos and his stuffed mink/weasel perched angrily on the mantel. Other people's homes, particularly those belonging to rather mythic characters, are always interesting to be in. It was a nice, comfortable place. I marveled that I didn't feel more out of place. I was a bit of a tag-a-long, still. Though an officially invited one. Maybe that's the youngest kid syndrome. Both literal, and me feeling like I'm always chasing after folks who know something I don't. Or they're different somehow.

Or just the obvious things in common that the three older folks had with each other cannot be escaped. Which is just fine. T.R. was a darling, however. She's a mom and she was motherly enough to make me feel safe, but was plenty girlfriendy so that I felt in on the adventure.

We went to Maymount a few hours early. We smoked in the party lot and drank more moonshine. It was impossibly hot so even after we started drinking melted cooler ice, it was even better than the shine. S.T. and J.K. played "Ruben's Train" and "Big Sciota" and "Fall on My Knees" until the sweat stung their eyes, then played more. I saw on the grass, talked to T.R. and took a few hundred pictures.

I was just glad to sit there, sweating away with these people. Things feel perfect and all things possible when you're drinking moonshine from a jar in 103 degree Richmond while your friend plays "Sally Anne" for spare bills.

We almost missed the start of Old Crow, as the boys played right through Ben Kweller's opening act. We sneaked through the crowd. The other folks got beers, I stuck with overpriced water. And Old Crow brought their magic.

It was a blistering night in Richmond, my favorite band was sweating and looking and sounding like angels. I was with friends, or at least good folks.

There's always somebody drunk punching you to get a better look at "Wagon Wheel." Your feet always go numb and you might faint from heat. But this is my religion. No fear, everything's possible and not the everyday. That's what Old Crow's given me more than any other musicians so far. And they've already given me poetry and aching for things and history and what's new around the next bend.

And Richmond says, old time still exists. I haven't slept on a haystack yet, but it's possible.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Must really like the bus

Butte, Montana

The next Greyhound driver is missing in action
And I’m stuck in the Butte station again
Inside you can buy fruit salad for 2.99 or watch television
Outside there is real grass
Where last time I saw loose dogs play tug-o-war with someone’s lost Mountain Dew
Today I sit at the gray picnic tables
Provided as if any of the people I have seen from Pittsburgh to Great Falls
Travel with a full picnic basket and the all the time to settle down in Butte

At the table are mostly Montanans who haven’t met before
A gray-haired, plump woman in pink seems pleased with herself
She tells stories of her hometown somewhere North
That she knows we’re so eager to hear
And the man beside her, a stranger, listens with such a look
That I want to take his photo, or have the hands to capture him in blue pen or black pencil
He is lovely and gray, like he’s worked hard all his life but kept his temper
He has a Styrofoam cup of coffee, that should taste good but certainly doesn’t
A cigarette is either in his left hand, or I’ve put it there afterwards
He’s handsome like a different Lee Harvey Oswald or my dead Grandfather
Who gave three quarters of his life for the pipes of Anaconda Copper
And this man at my table
Could have made pancakes on a Sunday morning for my mother
Could have told my Aunt Julie, as the oldest girl, that he was so sorry
He just couldn’t say those things, you know he loved her, though
Of course he loved her

But this man is less complicated than my mother half-orphaned at 12
He is just the momentary falling in love with a kind face
With listening to a well-meaning, tactless stranger
With two days of bus stations, their people inside
With the moment the sky opens up, somewhere past Wisconsin
The way it peels away the sides and tops and just blossoms
And with my Greyhound bus, God bless the late driver
Who is putting one more moment between home and me

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I just found this story about Lisa from last fall in the Daily Iowan.
More than 10 years after the deadly protest, Weaver was the sole correspondent reporting with a live
video-phone feed from China on the Hainan spy-plane incident during the standoff between China and the
United States over the mid-air crash between the nations’ planes. That’s when authorities arrested her on live
But Weaver shrugs it off.
“That’s nothing. That just happens,” she said, noting that she’s been detained in China “lots of times.”

That kind of modesty makes people who wish they were as cool as you just want to give up.

Hell, I don't care if she thought Alese was hot shit or if she never emailed in response to my post card. Chatham is so not the same without fawning over her. And I still curse the fact that I signed up for her International Journalism so late that I missed most of her Tienanmen Square talk. I never got the full story of what she was doing in '89.

Also, why is this yet another story about Lisa that's really blandly written?
But, as the tall and thin
woman said, she didn’t intend to go into broadcast journalism.
What is this, a wanted poster? Tall and thin woman?
What I wouldn't have given for an excuse to pester Lisa outside of class. If she had been here for 20 years since Tienanmen, that plus Chinese Chatham students could have been a killer story. Certainly a little more so than one of our Deans we had for three years is leaving, here's a puff piece.

But somehow all the sub-par writers in the world always get to interview her first.

Lousy Iowa.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


While listening to old Against Me! and after reading old Mitch Clem comics, I was reminded of A., my sister's friend. Was she her roommate, briefly? I think so. This fades, and it wasn't even that long ago.

But it was in the middle of no, no, school. I can't go to college. I want to be some bad-ass. Some Christopher McCandless punk. Some runaway trainhopper. I wanted to live with my underage best friend cousin in some terrible squat in Montana. If there is such a thing. I wanted to not do what I was doing then. I wanted my life to be active and creative and bold. It was none of those things. I was frozen. Entirely terrified. Jealous of everyone who seemed powerful or confident in ways I wanted in myself.

So there's A., from Minnesota. She wore no make-up. Her face all sort of blended together. She was not pretty, but I had to focus to remember that. Her accent was her most prominent aesthetic.

She needed surgery. My mother had told her to call if she needed anything. She hadn't had it yet in the day we hung out. I remember being in Squirrel Hill. We were waiting for my sister for some reason. I seem to remember going to a shoe store, and A and I both being bored very quickly.

So A. just talked and talked. She spent 3 months in Brazil alone. She once hitched a ride through the Northern Midwest with Against Me! Her friends and her built a raft to sail down the Mississippi for a while. She had done it all, and she was tired of it already. She eluded to bad things having maybe happened to her. Maybe threats, or close calls, maybe some real, terrible thing. She was sick of her friends who could only talk about their glory days. She wanted stability after all her adventures. That was the part I ignored.

She was perfect. She was who I wanted to be so desperately. She had no interest in being admired. She was friendly to me for that one day, a good talker, but that was all. She had her surgery, I believe it turned out fine. She went back home to Minnesota. She sings in a sweet, pure old time sort of voice and plays the washtub bass.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A double not friends kind of a poem

The tale of an internet friend and her intriguing obsession with this fellow, so nice as to be named Rivers twice. Look him up, he was a fascinating character. Not sure how the double not friends -- a girl I've only typed to being obsessed with a long-dead fellow -- came through, but it was certainly poem worthy.

Doctor Rivers and the girl

She’s looking for the doctor,
Here are pieces of him, if you care to look,
Rivers is in the mud, in the graveyards,
In Oxford’s thousand year old halls
Where she reads the great Englishmen.

Rivers lives in the scrawl of his notes and letters,
The whispered love with war poets,
He’s with the headhunters,
All those ticcing, weeping warriors walking between the lines.

She will put the good doctor together and you will know him,
She will fill in his lines, shade his edges, rub away
The smears of indifference, the decades that bury him,
Because his mercy still shines on dark aged corners,
He’s been gone more than a lifetime, so he’ll never leave her.

The young soldiers died to prove his power,
They fell down before Rivers, wrote poems
In praise of how he set their minds quiet,
Then sent them back to their duties in hell --
For the pied piper this time he came
Down so gently, with such regret.

Her mum died on the Doctor’s birthday,
But no there’s no negative transference,
He heals all traces of war neurosis, of shellshock,
He puts her back together, too
As she maps his life, gathers the parchments and fragments,
She does it for love, we must love him, too,

Soft eyes, angel by the bedside,
Father of the Empire’s broken toys.