February 20, 2013 – Sitting here in the International House of Bitterness, Paoli branch, trying to do something other than dissolve into nothingness. Bear with me as I attempt to fight my way out of a particularly nasty malaise and into the nearer regions of productivity.
a week nine days hence. I’m still here, trying to get out of the prison of my own construction.)
The day of leaving (again) approaches. Increasingly I wonder if the whole lost-in-Uncle Sam’s Backyard idea is nothing more than a recurring symptom of an insidious mental illness. And typically, I sink, sink, sink into the netherworld of the soul.
This just in: It looks like our departure date will fall in the week of March 11. Various family obligations/frivolities will hold us until then. That means, if my finger count is accurate, I’ve got almost
20 18 11 9 days to get my head together.
Since we’re still here, with our beloved behemoth parked in a kindly neighbor’s driveway, I want to say a word or two about our ride. It comes courtesy of the one and only Peter Canale. We’re tooling about the Berwyn-Valley Forge-Phoenixville axis of evil in his second-string car, a wondrously ramshackle Pontiac Grand Prix. I think the vintage is 2000.
It is the car for me. If ever a movable hunk of metal approximated my fractured inner state, it is the Canale Grand Prix.
All you need know: It takes two keys to start and a screwdriver to properly shut off. Oh, there are other peculiarities. There’s the passenger-side window which won’t go up or down. It’s permanently cracked open in the let-a-nice-20-degree-breeze-in position. Then there’s the trunk, a portable toxic waste dump. It is a jumble of mold and mildew and discarded pieces of past lives that Peter can’t quite divest himself of yet.
I understand his reservation completely. I am a Humpty Dumpty of loose ends, a mish-mash of scraps and loose papers and notebooks and other shreds of evidence. They should be trashed immediately, every last one of them. But how can I when one day they might, with the aid of considerable magic, not to mention divine intervention, assemble themselves into the great lost narrative of my life?
Just a few minutes ago, while rooting around in my backpack for the $12 I misplaced the other day, I came upon two stray folds of paper which had been ripped from a reporter’s notebook in June of 2007, probably in or about Phoenix, Arizona. The notebook belonged to intrepid reporter and faithful friend Lauri Lebo.
It fell into my hands in Cosby, Tenn. We were traipsing about a wondrous collection of second-hand axe handles and horse collars and Dutch ovens and oxen yokes belonging to a self-described flat-foot Tennessee country boy named Edgar “Me-do” Parks when she graciously afforded me the use of her notebook so I might fill it with scribblings of no discernible importance.
These pages are testimony to my fragmented inner life. They are the tip of a troubled iceberg.
Edgar and his wife Carolyn had us to dinner that night in the little kitchen in back of the shop.
“You’ll eat country tonight,” Carolyn said before serving us a repast of soup beans, cornbread and kraut.
At least half of the scrawl on these sheets of paper is illegible. Here’s what I can make of it:
Some old-timer, likely Me-do’s dad, worked in the Stokely Brothers Canning factory up the road in Newport.
“He never owned a car.” Either Me-do or Carolyn said this, about either Me-do’s dad or hers. “He walked his whole life. He walked 5, 6 (maybe) 10 miles to Newport.”
There’s a name: Eulas Blackwell. Maybe Carolyn’s daddy.
“I done lived my life,” Me-do said. “Done seen everything I wanted to see.”
Then there’s a little homespun take on domesticity, courtesy of Me-do: “If she can’t cook, she ain’t no good.”
There’s a snatch or two about Me-do’s days as a moonshine runner. He and a buddy would load 10-15 cases, 12 quart jars to a case, in a 1952 Ford and hit the road at midnight. Nobody was killed.
There was a sign on the wall of the junk shop: “Unattended children will be sold as slaves.”
It took me a good 30 minutes to decipher that.
“You ain’t a country boy if you ain’t got a dog.”
“You ain’t a country boy if you ain’t got a knife in your back pocket.”
He liked to punctuate his nuggets of backwoods wisdom with rhetorical expressions such as “Ain’t that right?” or “You understand my point now?”
Somewhere along the line he told me about the .22 magnum in his right front pocket.
I forgot about that.
As I fumble to extricate myself from the teeth of a tenacious malaise I am listening to a Little Feat concert at Ebbets Field in Denver from July 19, 1973. I didn’t know there ever was an Ebbets Field west of Flatbush. This strikes me as some kind of stadia sacrilege. But I pile digression on top of digression.
I’m deep in the middle of a Lowell George resurgence. This has everything to do with the Canale Grand Prix. There’s a cache of unmarked cassette tapes piled in the console. One of them includes an hour of George’s music as featured on WXPN’s “World Cafe.”
But, goddamn. Lowell George.
Maybe, at 34, he died too late in life to become a legend who died too young. He didn’t burn out in a meteoric flash but descended in a haze of undiluted hedonism. Speedballs and Courvosier. But Jesus Christ playing bottleneck on a battered Telecaster* in the Howlin’ Wolf-Townes Van Zandt Band in some gritty afterlife bar, he was great. Rock and roll and country, blues and funk, prose and poetry, all in a roiling, sardonic stew of sweet despair.
If I were given to unsupported statements of absurd grandiloquence, I’d say George’s body of work outstrips those of Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison. But I’m not that kind of guy.
I got lost in his song “Trouble,” which dates back more than 40 years at this point. It seems in a few off-hand verses to obliterate the sin of self-pity.
Oh your telephone rang and you went “oh ho”
You forgot about this, and you forgot about that
‘Cause you got to get back to what you doing
Goodbye, click that, so and so
You’re an island and on your own
This hits home because I’ve been cowering in fear of the telephone for more than a year now. I’ve been home, but I haven’t been answering. I must’ve avoided a thousand telephone calls in the past 12 months. JPMorgan & Chase, Herbert Gray, Northwest Trustee Services. All of them and more. Who knows who was calling? Not me.
I avoid the phone as I would a genital plague.
As an aside built atop a digression from a narrative of no cohesion whatsoever, occasionally I like to check out cover versions of quasi-popular songs by unknowns. The second one was by a guy who calls himself “Latchmo,” who it turns out is Mike Lattrell.
Pretty darned good, I thought. You know, as in pretty damn good for some guy sitting around in his living room and deciding to send his solo acoustic cover out into the interwebs. I went to his channel in search of a little background on Mike Lattrell.
He’s from the Adirondacks but now lives in the south of France. And he’s not just a guy who plays guitar on a slip-covered couch. He also plays mandolin and piano in a band called Gunshot.
Here he plays his own composition, “Mandolin Moan.”
He lists his primary occupation as Hammond B3 blues piano/Hammond organ player. for what it’s worth:In case you think he’s full of shit, check out this shit:
Somewhere, James Booker paused for a second and smiled knowingly in the direction of Professor Longhair.
Just makes me wonder at all the talent drowning in rising seas of obscurity in world increasingly taken up with reality television and Internet. I mean, who the hell has heard of Mike Latrell?
And, with all the shit he’s got going on, can he be happy with it?
Lowell George had the answer, I guess.
‘Cause your eyes are tired, and your feet are too
And you wish the world was as tired as you.
Well I’ll write a letter, and I’ll send it away
And put all the trouble in it you had today.
We all got trouble. Guess that’s the meaning of life, close as anything I can figure. And if you’re not worrying about your baby starving to death or getting sent up for murder, well, maybe your troubles ain’t so troubling.
Mine aren’t, that’s for sure.
* Once belonged to Joe Strummer.