Stories and tales from a guitar-picking writer, theologian, speaker, blogger and entertainer. From small town quirks to the bizarre realities of family, whacky church life and slightly damaged kinfolk, insights from a reluctant son of the South takes you along. Never know where it’ll end up but it’s sure to be worth the trip.
My friend Pat Terry is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, ever. After a long and successful career in contemporary Christian music, he widened his vision and writing. A successful career in country music as a writer followed, with plenty of hits. He just came out with his latest CD, “How Hard It Is to Fly,” and it’s another great batch of songs. One of my newest favorites, “Clean Starched Sheets” is on this one.
Pat’s heart has always been as a storytelling songwriter. I have been in a couple of his workshops, and he is a master craftsman. I’ve performed with him a time or two here in Birmingham, and I’ve gone more than once to hear him sing. His songs are deeply human. One of my favorites and one of the first I ever heard him perform (while opening for Earl Scruggs!) was “Someplace Green.” It sends me to visions of Eden.
I had many thoughtful calls about Hurricane Sandy because I have a daughter in New York City and another in New York State. Both, thankfully, escaped the worst of it, neither even experienced a power outage. They had friends, of course, who did. But inevitably, an avalanche of odd theological statements come forth.
Speculation on natural disasters are not, of course, new. A few people said, “God is telling us something.” Having been through a tornado that hit my church many years ago, I wince at such statements, especially since the tornado spared every part of our proposed expansion program and hit every part that we had not considered, namely the offices and the sanctuary, where it ripped a hole in the roof right over the pulpit, which a few sawdust trail preachers in town suggested was payback for our liberalism (we ordain women and are open to all races and do not marginalize divorced persons, and have practiced these ways since the 1970s).
Corporations are not necessarily evil in and of themselves, but the net effect can be the disappearance of everything that makes the place where you live distinctive.
Got a notice from my friend Steve Norris that our friend Dale Short put us on his “Music From Home” radio program yesterday. (LISTEN) (SMA is on the first program)
Thanks, Dale! “Music From Home” is local artists. I appreciate that there are still programs here and there in a world in which globalized corporate mass culture (which is short for “controlled by a few people who are not always interested in the music”) threatens to gobble up everything. Music and making money have a long and unhappy marriage. They love one another and need each other but they can’t make each other happy. Their families were so different. They hurt each other and use each other all the time. Sometimes they have to separate to get on with life.
The internet and programs like Dale’s provide hope that artists, musical worlds and songwriters can collaborate and pursue their craft in different ways. The web is already having a salutary effect on music. It is possible to skip the narrow funnel of corporate mass marketing that has produced some great stuff but also turned away some great music that people would like. This is why listening rooms like Keith Harrelson’s Moonlight On the Mountain and other great places struggle to make it and deserve our support.
These changes will be painful for a while, as they are in publishing and in every field. But as with all things human, there is also possibility for many good things, too. Hope you’ll support local artists, internet radio and local radio programs, and local venues and businesses. Corporations are not necessarily evil in and of themselves, but the net effect can be the disappearance of everything that makes the place where you live distinctive. Supporting local life (which means “I am willing to pay more for what I like’) is a way to protest the gobble ’em up and kill ’em off so I can have a house in Santa Fe culture.
We need to pay attention–how we spend our money, what we listen to, and where we direct time has massive implications for our future. Be purposeful in your life. It matters.
Weather. Someone said to me not long ago, “It is humbling to consider that when you come to die, the crowd that day will be determined by the weather and they’ll sum your life up in twenty minutes or less.” Humbling.
“Shelter” is such a “taken for granted” in America that we live more disconnected from the fragility of life as it is exposed to the elements. It breaks in on us now and then—in California, by earthquake, in other places, snow or tsunami. Here in the South, we live chronically subject to the tornado and hurricanes.
Hurricanes are different in that they are coming for days. There’s always time to get away if you want to skeedaddle, even though it is some sort of honorable foolishness in this part of the country that there is always some guy named Leonard or Dude who never leaves and is filmed with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth while he grins and nails up plywood on his flimsy house and shrugs his shoulders. “I’m going to ride ‘er out.” Sometimes Leonard is never seen again, but often he makes it.
I don’t have any expertise on weather, but this global warming issue seems persuasive. How could billions of us NOT have an impact? Now, what we can do, or whether it’s too far gone, who can tell? We’re going to have to ride ‘er out.
If a hurricane is like watching an approaching army from a mountaintop, a tornado is more like running
into Jack the Ripper. Here in Alabama, when our local weatherman star says, “The sky is falling,” the local Publix grocery store looks like the aftermath of a locust plague and everybody heads for the house and their safe place. My wife and I have sat through more than a few in the dark, sitting down in the basement where my office-studio is, listening to the weather radio and praying for strangers nearby. After last April, the anxiety only went higher.
The closest I ever got to death out in the elements, other than almost drowning when I was six (I got hit by a car crossing the street that year, too, so I have to say, vulnerability I do know as a friend), was out in a rainstorm on a mountaintop in Colorado in the summer of ’73. It came on quickly, and we were surveying in a remote area where there wasn’t even a road. All we could do was crouch under a little hollow in a mountainside and wait. By and by, a bolt of lightening and a thunder clap came simultaneously. I saw the lighting hitting the ground about 100 feet away. My arm hair was standing straight up.
The three of us on that survey crew hollered. I think I yelled, “Whoa!” Surely the most useless word I ever spoke, but I didn’t have time to compose any elegant thoughts. As fast as it came, it was over. And, Lord, we were glad to be alive, we were. Exhilarating.
That’s what tornadoes are like—Jack the Ripper comes down the street and goes on by, and you are so grateful. Missed it this time.
Reminds me, like the time I huddled in the rain, that life is very precious, never guaranteed, and worth treasuring every day. Electric lights, indoor plumbing and the delusion of endless electricity have fooled us. We’re riders in the rain who still have to take cover when the siren sounds.
Since the weather Chicken Littlin’ is going on today, thought I’d post a couple of storm songs. Bluegrass, country and folk have always written songs about duststorms, avalanches, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Take a listen to two if you’re huddling down somewhere. “Galveston Flood” by Tony Rice and “California Earthquake,” a Rodney Crowell song performed by the Seldom Scene.
This earth is where we live. You have to respect it. Like Clint Eastwood said, “Man’s got to know his limitations.”