Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Toll Road To Redemption - Mark Insley Ventures Out of the Desert

by Bill Glahn

There’s a road on the outskirts of Tucson in serious need of repair called Old Spanish Trail. To the east of the road is Saguaro National Park, home of America’s largest cacti - a beautiful, yet harsh landscape. To the west is a maze of sand and gravel roads that get narrower and ruttier the further in you dare to venture. This is where Mark Insley hangs his hat. He’s been hanging it there for the last 16 years. He hasn’t made any new music in the last 15 of those years.

Mark Insley might be the best-kept secret in Americana music. After three critically acclaimed CDs around the turn of the century, Insley seemed to vanish. In terms of musical output, he went mute.

Insley’s first release, Good Country Junk, was the result of his well-received stage act at the Palomino in Los Angeles. He enlisted members of Dwight Yoakam’s band (Scott Joss, Taras Prodaniuk, Pete Anderson), among others, and if there is one minor complaint about Good Country Junk, it’s that it was, stylistically, a bit too close to Yoakam. That’s not a bad thing as far as making a record, but it really didn’t offer anything fresh. That would change drastically with Insley’s sophomore album, Tucson.

Tucson featured another great support cast of players – Dave Alvin, Albert Lee, Tony Gilkyson, and some jaw-dropping organ contributions by Danny McGough. But the thing that makes Tucson a solid five-star record is not the players, it’s the songs. To borrow a phrase from Willie Nelson, these are the kind of songs that keep the jukeboxes playing - songs written by a man that feels things deeply, songs that cut to the bone and are delivered in a voice that reflects every note of that.

Insley’s third and final CD, Supermodel, carries that forward, including a remake of “The Devil’s Knocking” from Good Country Junk that is stunning in its transformation. These are the sounds of a man on the verge of breaking. And they are the last sounds the world has heard from Mark Insley.

So what happened? Insley’s pretty open about the last 15 years.

“Oh man, it’s not a pretty story. I had a couple of failed marriages. I had a good little run for a couple of years. I was hosting this thing downtown called ‘Arizona’s Most Wanted.’ I had bands coming in from all over the country – very few from Arizona. That didn’t really endear me to the local vox populi. That went away.

“You know, I fell in with a group of guys that were on the unsavory side. I was doing more drugs and alcohol than any man should live to tell about. I had this little run-in with the police for possession with intent to distribute and illegal possession of an automatic firearm. I ended up selling everything I had to hire the best criminal attorney in the state. And we beat all of that.

“You’d think I’d have learned my lesson but I just kept at it. So finally, a couple of years ago I got drunk and decided to go out for a motorcycle ride. I ended up in the hospital with a motorcycle handlebar puncture wound in my small intestine and third degree burns all over my legs.

“I kind of took stock of my life. Asked myself, ‘Do you want to die like this or live a little bit longer?’ I quit most of my bad habits and started working on my craft – my writing.

“I was doing a weekly gig at a BBQ joint and then that went away [a place on Old Spanish Road outside of the city, which went out of business]. I had another slow period and then in the last year I started sticking my toe in the water and seeing how it felt. And audiences seemed to respond. They like it. I like it.

“That’s what I do. So that’s what I want to do. I have enough songs to make an album. My plan is to go out to LA and record with some of my old cohorts. Some won’t talk to me anymore, but the ones that will – they seem interested.”

At 61 years of age, Insley has a different approach to his songwriting. Rather than in-the-moment songs of heartache, songs he refers to as “written under duress,” Insley is both reflective and forward-looking with some of his new material.

“About once a month I come into town and play this little joint called the Royal Sun. The gal that runs it is the one who actually coaxed me out of - I don’t know what you call it – semi-retirement? I went in there one time and she asked ‘You want to play here, don’t you?’ I thought, ‘Fuck no.’ But that started it. She just wouldn’t leave me alone until I said yes. And I’m glad she did. She’s a nice gal.

“Damon Barnaby – I’ve been playing with him for years. We like to do this duo thing there.”

It’s in these acoustic settings that Insley performs some of his recent tunes.

“My younger brother (Austin-based songwriter Dave Insley) has written songs about parents and family for years and I always thought, well, nobody really gives a shit about that stuff. But it’s just been within the last few years that I’ve begun to embrace these aspects of life. You realize you’re not immortal.”

But being reflective doesn’t have to mean losing your edge. Insley pulls a guitar out of its case and, in an interview setting, gives me an example of a new song from his days growing up in the farming community of Chapman, Kansas.

Called “My First Car,” it begins with a description of one of the ugliest and coolest (in a funky sort of way) cars Dodge has ever produced. Slant Six motor. Push-button automatic. By the time the song is over it’s a back-door murder ballad (the previous owner had murdered her husband and put the body pieces in the trunk).

And Insley describes the song as “absolutely true”. This is a new twist for Insley. It’s dark but it’s dark humor. It’s a great story delivered in a talking folk/blues style. It’s the kind of song that will go a long way in entertaining an audience, but not one that’s going to knock them off their bar stools.

“Now I’ll play you a song about the future.”

The future Insley is talking about is the same one we all face - death. And this one will knock you off your barstool. Lyrically it’s one of the most provocative songs Insley has ever written. Called “10-Cent Redemption”, Insley delivers with conviction. This isn’t just story telling. It’s confessional story telling with a vengeance. Pollyanna doesn’t live here.

I’m over-churched but I keep on sinnin’
I claim the good lord’s work but the devil’s winnin’ 

On June 20, Insley played his first gig in five years with an electric band. They didn’t play any new songs. “We’ve only rehearsed songs that the band knows from recordings.” When asked afterwards how it felt, Insley responded, “It felt great!” Insley hopes to enter the recording studio before the end of summer. The process will be a lot different this time. “I’ve never had to pay for recording a record.”

Insley still prefers the isolation of where he lives. “Nobody ever finds it. That’s why I live out there.” And there are tolls to be paid to travel out of those sand and gravel roads. Mark Isley is paying them a little at a time, but he’s paying them. And that gives fans of his old records something to hope for.

[This article appeared first in the BigO e-zine, Singapore's largest independent music publication.]

Monday, July 16, 2018

My People Come From The Dirt – Activism Shines Brightly at Woodyfest 2018

Prairie school class, north central Oklahoma, early 20th century. One of those kids is my Grandmother.
(story by Bill Glahn)

I can’t pinpoint exactly where my journey to the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival began. Perhaps it was during a family trip to Holland and the western border of Germany in the late ‘90s. I was already familiar with the territory, having made numerous business trips there over the years. I had friends in those countries – kind and gracious friends – friends who practiced the same level of tolerance that my dad had taught me. There was Eddie, a record shop owner from Zwolle (R.I.P). Eddie’s wife, Reah (R.I.P.), and daughter Joyce. I watched Joyce grow up. Often it was she who answered the phone on my Trans-Atlantic calls. “Eddie (she always called her dad by his first name), it’s Bill from America.” By pre-arranged agreement, Eddie would take his time getting to the phone, giving Joyce an opportunity to practice her English. Her English was fine – a little broken – but fine. But Joyce lacked confidence in her linguistic abilities. The last time I saw Joyce was in 2005. Her English was perfect and her confidence was top notch.

There was Dieter (whereabouts unkown), a junkie who supplied his habit by making “protection gap” bootlegs. Dieter, being aware of my tenuous sobriety at the time, always steered me away from that aspect of the German underworld. And always insisted on paying my hotel room when I came to visit. “The comings and goings at my apartment would not be suitable for you.” And no matter how bad the reviews of his CDs were in my magazine, he never expected favor.

Wolfgang was an unlikely friend, but a good friend nonetheless. Wolfgang specialized in selling American CDs that hadn’t been released in Germany. Wolfgang, was the son of the founder of a chain of German department stores – a member of a class that I did not frequent often. On one of his buying trips to Austin, he invited me out to see an Americana artist that I was not familiar with. I don’t remember the artist, but I remember that he was quite good. I was impressed with Wolfgang’s depth of musical knowledge.

I could give, probably, a dozen more examples. But all would share the same common thread – these friendships would evolve around music and tolerance.

Getting back to the story… While having lunch at some remote rail outpost in Germany, my family and I began playing Uno, an innocent card game involving no gambling. The waitress, an elderly woman, approached and began speaking, indignantly, in German. I know very little German, but the message was clear. “No card playing.” I don’t know if this was an actual policy or an affront to the moral values of this woman. I put the cards back in their box. “So sorry.” It was clear that tolerance didn’t exist everywhere. And that there was no music being piped through the speakers of this train depot. Nor musicians busking around the perimeter (a common occurrence outside of Central Station in Amsterdam).

Or maybe this journey began at my father’s deathbed. My dad was from Oklahoma – upstate in the north central part. He hadn’t seen his childhood homes of Enid and Ponca City in more than 5 decades. I made a trip to gather a photographic journal to take to him as he lay wasting away from some undiagnosed illness in a New Jersey hospital. The best of his final days were spent looking at those photos and reflecting on his childhood – stories I had never heard before. When my father died, I inherited a “secret stash” of news-clippings, letters, and childhood photos from the 1930s – an intimate picture of life during Dustbowl-era Oklahoma. I had never known my grandparents until I received this. My grandfather was a newspaper proofreader (a blue collar job at the time) and my grandmother was a portrait photographer with a knack of capturing the uncommon side of common people. They died much too early, but isn’t that often the case when subjected to a hardscrabble life? As Grant Peeples would sing at Woodyfest, “My People Come From The Dirt.”

Long ago, before I spent my remaining ten years in the work force as a warehouse laboror, I was a professional writer. One day in late 2003, while working in my office at Community Free Press, a freelance photographer/writer walked in with an aging Great Dane named Baby. The woman would become my girlfriend and the Dane would adopt me as her second human being. Baby would live for three more years to the ripe old age of 13 – ancient for a Great Dane. Baby became an almost constant companion and walking partner. She would often come to the office (she had free reign) and my love for the friendly and loving nature of the breed was sealed. Baby was an ambassador of good will and a peace-keeper. The romance with the photographer/writer didn’t survive long without her.

One day about 3 years ago, I came home from the warehouse job to be greeted by a bark from the next-door neighbor’s yard. It was a deep-throated and loud bark, not the usual growl that came from my neighbor’s other dog, a vicious pit bull named Leah (the kind that gives the breed an undeserved bad reputation.) “Maverick,” as Sally was named then, stood in the middle of my neighbor’s back yard and looked me square in the eye. To the untrained ear, it was a bark that could raise the hairs on the back of your neck. To me, however, it was a bark that said, “Pet me.” I took some pictures of Baby over to my neighbor, told her how much I loved Great Danes, and asked her if I could meet Maverick without Leah in the yard at the same time. She agreed and Maverick came immediately to the fence, jumped up, and started licking my face. Sally didn’t have real good manners, yet. She was still a puppy of about 8 months old. I told my neighbor, “These are great dogs, but they require attention.” My neighbor, a single mother working two jobs, didn’t have the time for that. Neither, I thought, did I. I was working 56 hours a week and had planned to put off having another dog until retiring.

As winter approached Maverick was confined to a tool shed in the back of my neighbor’s yard. On a particularly cold day, her water bowl froze. I had been giving Maverick some good dog food on the sly – an effort to supply some nutrition that she wasn’t getting from the Ol’ Roy crap my neighbor was feeding her. Maverick wasn’t even getting much of that – having to fight a pit bull with food aggression for every nugget. Her ribs were showing and she had bite wounds. That was more than I could endure. I went over to my neighbor’s house and told her, “My business stops at the fence line, but I’m not going to stand for this. Either you take this dog into the house and give her some shelter, or find her a proper home. The other option is I’m going to call Animal Control!”

An untrained and unattended dog will train itself. Maverick trained herself to rip the inside of my neighbor’s house to shreds. By early April my neighbor was knocking on my door. “I can’t find anyone to take Maverick. Will you take her?”

I told her I would pay for a visit to the vet and take her for a week to make sure she hadn’t lost her Great Dane nature. Then I would make a decision whether to keep her or find a Great Dane adoption society that could assist with a foster home. I started calling her “Sally” from day one. The vet appointment was on the third day but my ex-wife, who knows me better than anyone, told me, “I already know that whatever the vet says, you’re going to keep her.” She was right.

The past 2+ years are a love story between a human and a dog. There’re plenty of those to go around, and every one of them is worth hearing. Despite some early immune deficiency problems, Sally has grown into a fit (and smart!) adult.

Last year, I went to Woodyfest for the first time. It was more a rendezvous with friends I hadn’t seen in too long than a quest. I boarded Sally in the capable hands of Camp Bow Wow – a first for her. Her exuberance upon my return was almost too much to bear. Never again. I’ve been promising her that when I retire, we would go on some great adventures together – the kind that her “Great Aunt Baby” had embarked on. She seems to like those stories.

I had this plan to travel America – to check out what had changed in our country since John Steinbeck wrote Travels With Charley almost 60 years before.

"A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers... A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost." (John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley)

Sally is a dog much like Charley. She's a lover, not a fighter, as well as a great conversation starter. She's the perfect dog to embark on this trip. This isn't the same America. Some changes are apparent. For starters, there are changes in law. In 1960, the Voters' Rights Act and The Fair Housing Act did not exist. The Environmental Superfund of 1980 did not exist. Nor the subsequent stripping of it's corporate funding. Infrastructure is different - there are far more interstate highways to get from place to place. There is modern technology (social networking) that both connects and divides. Political apathy is not so apparent - it's more a case of choosing sides - political awareness is in your face 24/7. Or is it? Overt racism has seen fluctuations, but is on the rise again. On the labor front, unions have taken a beating since 1960. The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, 9/11, Citizens United, Iraq, Afghanistan and perpetual war, Cadillac Ranch, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - all these things have happened since Steinbeck wrote Travels With Charley. Sally and I have made a few exploratory journeys since I retired several months ago. The 2018 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, however, was the first official stop on the Travels With Sally adventure/book project. It's a journey to find out where America has gone wrong, where it has gone right. All conclusions are yet to be discovered.

About a month ago I took Sally on a preliminary trip to Tucson to see how well she would adapt to long-distance travel. One of the stops along the way was to see what Okemah, OK was like when Woodyfest (officially called The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival) wasn’t in town. It was a particularly hot Sunday when I ran into Peggiann Combs and three other members of the Okemah Garden Club – doing the work that often falls on volunteers in small communities with an even smaller tax base. Peggiann has continued to correspond with me, informing me about the activities of her club - their hopes and dreams.

Sally proved to be well-suited for travel, so onward!

While music was a big part of the trip, the ultimate purpose was different. Mingling with the locals was equally, if not more, important as mingling with musicians. I already knew the reputation of many of the musicians that play Woodyfest – an independent group doing the hard work of spreading the socialist, inclusive politics of Woody Guthrie. But I also have heard old stories about Okemah not being particularly fond of their association as the birthplace of “that communist.”

Oklahoma is considered a deep “red” state these days. It’s rather ironic that the color used to reflect states with deeply conservative and anti-Socialist views was, in Guthrie’s time, the color used to describe Communists. Hell, in the McCarthy era, when anti-Communism was heating up, the Cincinnati Reds even changed their name to the Cincinnati Redlegs to avoid the association. Apparently it was safer to affiliate ones team to a band of Civil War terrorists posing as abolitionists than it was to be associated with Communists. They have since reverted to their original name, which is more applicable to present day terminology.

Rural Oklahoma, I’ve found, is too independent to be typecast. The Wobblies (IWW) had enjoyed a good amount of success in pre-WW1 Oklahoma. As a union, the Wobblies failed, ultimately, in Oklahoma with a strict adherence to ideology. Tenant farmers couldn’t join because they were, technically, “bosses.” It didn’t matter to the Chicago-based IWW that they were as dirt poor as the field hands. Or that they were not the land owners that reaped the profits without doing any of the work. The anti-union sentiment in Oklahoma can often be traced backed to those roots. But the desire to receive an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work remains alive and well.

There are realities in small town mid-America these days, not the least of which is they have been abandoned by the jobs and industries on which they once flourished, both agricultural and industrial. Okemah survives, in part, because it is located on the heavily traveled I-40. Tax revenues and jobs from a variety of restaurants (both chain and independent), truck stops, gas stations, and other businesses maintain a subsistence level of government funding. Volunteerism provides the rest.

Towns off the Interstate, however, don’t fair as well. Closer to home, Granby, MO is on life support. When the lead mines there ran out of lead after WW2, the locals were left holding the bag. With no tax base, the community is left to the uncertainties of government "entitlement" programs. Smelting remains dot the landscape. When land for a proposed Head Start School was chosen years ago, it was found to be over an old mine shaft and subject to sinkholes. There are reasons to hate irony.

Okemah has better chances for survival. The Okemah Garden Club, for example, maintains and waters the corner pots along Broadway Street. Their community garden produced over 3500 pounds of produce which was distributed through to the community through the Moscogee Creek Nation Nutrition Center, the Okemah Senior Nutrition Center and to home-bound disabled citizens. This year they also delivered fresh produce to the campers at Pastures of Plenty. They planted Redbud Row by the High School, a memorial to their late Superintendent of Schools (22 years of service). The dream of OGC to have their own property for the Community Garden and to include a bird and butterfly habitat garden. Also to include a Monarch station and weather station for area students to learn from.

The Okfuskee County History Museum is run entirely on donations and has an all-volunteer staff. At Woodyfest, the museum hosted such things as Tom Breiding’s combination of part labor songs, part history lesson. Also, Barry Ollman’s annual “Collecting Woody Guthrie” slide show. If you’ve never seen it, “Collecting Woody Guthrie” is as much about Guthrie’s activism as it is about collecting his artifacts. And Breiding, from Pittsburgh, PA can quote you chapter and verse about mining and labor.

Then there’s the Animal Rescue League of Okemah (ARLO). Volunteers for ARLO staffed the Brick Street Event Center as servers and bar tenders for tip money – money to fund their organization. During the busiest week of the year in Okemah, at one of the most frequented music establishments in town, this is sheer genius when it comes to local fundraising.

Without the independent nature of the locals, however, Sally would not have been able to witness any of this. The willingness to bend (or outright break) the rules, when the situation calls for it, comes with the territory in Okemah. Sally was a welcome guest at the Rocky Road Tavern for open mic sessions, the Brick Street Event Center for ticketed events by Chris Buhalis and Grant Peeples, St. Paul’s Methodist Church for a performance by the Guthrie Kids and Family Band, the History Museum for presentations by Barry and Tom, and grass seating (free of charge) outside the fence at the Pastures of Plenty concerts. Peggiann Combs even arranged a spot for Sally at a Mexican restaurant.

The musicians brought the passion and activism that attracts thousands of folks from around the country every year at Woodyfest. But the folks that live in Okemah year round have it as well.

My dad, a community volunteer and patriot in his own right, would be spinning in is grave over a Trump-led Republican Party. He would have approved of the goins’ on in Okemah this week. When Okemah native, John Fullbright, closed the Saturday night proceedings at Pastures of Plenty he did so to a backdrop of lightning and thunder. It all seemed so appropriate. “So sorry” is not a proper response to authoritarianism. Make some noise! My people, do indeed, come from the dirt. And I’m honored to call the people of Okemah, My People. Sally and I will return as often as we are able. But while we're away we'll be carrying this tune with us...

[Bill Glahn is a retired warehouse worker and an unretired writer from Springfield, MO]

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Who Will Save The World - Travels Through The Texas Panhandle

-by Bill Glahn-

The world can't give
All its life and live
We must give back or lose it.
(“Music Is The Food Of Thought”, written by Tony McPhee)

When The Groundhogs released Who Will Save The World in 1972, it followed a popular format in rock music at the time – theme albums. But the theme Tony McPhee chose for his songs may have been a first for rock music – “earth first.” The cover was designed to look like the action comics of the day. Up in the left-hand corner, where you might usually find a brand name like “Marvel”, it contained the phrase “When danger arises, up from inner space come the MIGHTY GROUNDHOGS."

Recently I took a trip from Springfield, MO to Tucson, AZ. Much of the trip was along the same route I had made many times in the late ‘80s and ‘90s with my family, to CD and record trade shows in Los Angeles. On one of those trips, Don Henley was autographing copies of Heaven Is Under Our Feet, a collection of essays edited by Henley and journalist Dave Marsh. The book was part of Henley’s Walden Woods Project – an ultimately successful effort to save Walden Woods from development by purchasing the portions that weren’t already under protection. The Groundhogs weren’t nearly as successful in their efforts to bring attention to environmental concerns in the United States (the album peaked at no. 202 on the Billboard album charts) but did have noticeably better results overseas (no. 8 on the British charts).

I took my dog, Sally, on my recent trip. Sally, like many non-humans, not only takes notice of what’s on top of the ground, but what’s under the ground as well. I’ve learned to pay attention to Sally and follow her lead. Heaven is, indeed, under our feet. Hell can be, too.

As we passed through the Texas Panhandle, the landscape had changed quite a bit since those trips to L.A. Gone were the small wooden or steel windmills and their small collection ponds for cattle. Gone was the sagebrush that the cattle feed on. The cattle had moved onto feeding lots. If the sight of cattle, tens of thousands of them, corralled in tightly packed pens makes your stomach churn, you probably shouldn’t travel I-40 through Texas. But you should know they’re there and think about that the next time you bite into a hamburger.

But what of the sand and native grasses?

On those earlier trips out to L.A., the first giant windmills started showing up in the passes leading from the high desert into Los Angeles. "What a wonderful thing," I thought. "Using wind power to light such a vastly populated area." Passing through the Texas Panhandle last week, those windmills were everywhere. Thousands of them, stretching over millions of acres. But there were no cities to light. Hardly any houses at all. What there was were vast fields of vegetation - lush green vegetation. Looks can be deceiving.

You see, the largest aquifer in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer passes directly under the Texas Panhandle - the entire width of it.

From Wikipedia: "Large scale extraction for agricultural purposes started after World War II due partially to center pivot irrigation and to the adaptation of automotive engines for groundwater wells. Today about 27% of the irrigated land in the entire United States lies over the aquifer, which yields about 30% of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. The aquifer is at risk for over-extraction and pollution. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall."

What Wikipedia doesn’t say is how much of that 9% has happened in just the last decade or two. Or how long the aquifer can last under such an accelerated draining. Capitalists can sure fuck up a good idea. When the aquifer reaches a point where it can no longer be exploited, Capitalists will do what they always do – abandon it. They’ll leave behind a legacy of destruction that dwarfs the slag heaps outside of Pittsburgh, burning rivers in Cleveland, lead mines in western Missouri, and even the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Dust Bowl? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The Mighty Groundhogs didn’t save the world. But they served notice. Now it’s up to you and me.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Sally's Big Adventure

-by Sally G as interpreted by Bill Glahn-

[Sally is my Great Dane companion – my best friend for the last 2+ years. I had no plans to get another dog until I retired, but Sally needed to be separated from a bad situation. I was asked to adopt her, I said OK, and I have never regretted it. Retirement came 2 months ago. I’ll let Sally take it from here – to the best I am able to interpret her Scooby-Dooisms.]

Daddy likes to play music for me a lot. Sometimes it sounds great to my ears, sometimes not. When it’s not-so-good, I just stand up and walk out of the room. Daddy doesn’t mind. He thinks it’s kind of funny. But when it’s music I like, I usually go lay down closer to the speakers. “You’re a lot like your Great Aunt Baby,” Daddy says. “The best music critic in the house!” I’ve never met Great Aunt Baby, but Daddy has shown me pictures. She looks a lot like me only older.

Daddy has told me stories about her – stories about great cross-country adventures to Atlanta, Baltimore, and Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, there is an annual concert called Rock For Pussy where they play David Bowie songs. I like David Bowie. Daddy says it raises money for “no-kill” animal shelters. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s a real good idea if it makes Daddy happy. Daddy took Baby to Muscle Shoals once. Daddy says this is where some of Baby’s favorite music was made. He always adds a lot of details about funny stuff. Like the biker bar/ pool hall outside of Muscle Shoals called Hog & Heifer. And about how he taught some bikers how to play a game called Cheater’s Pool. I don’t understand a lot of what Daddy’s talking about, but he seems happy when telling me those stories. So I listen until I fall asleep. When Daddy retired a few months ago, he said it’s my turn for big adventures now.

He started making what he called mix CDs for the road. Mark Insley’s “Middle of Nowhere.” Billy Dankert’s “Open Wide.” Blackfoot’s “It’s A Highway Song.” Al Perry’s “We Got Cactus.” Elton John’s “Holiday Inn.” There was one called “Cadillac Ranch.” Daddy says we’re going there. He sings along with that one! “"I'm gonna pack my pa and I'm gonna pack my aunt/ I'm gonna take them down to the Cadillac ranch." I can’t wait!

Daddy put some extra things in the car. Like the suitcase and a lunchbox marked with my name. The last time he did this was when we went to a cabin at Devil’s Den State Park. Oh, Goody! That’s near where those little humans Daddy calls “the grandkiddles” live. I always have fun there! Daddy does, too. When we get on the big road heading that way, I’m sure of it.

We drove for miles to a town called Joplin. That’s where Daddy usually turns onto another big road. But he missed his turn! I tried to tell him but he just didn’t understand. So I jumped into the seat next to Daddy and tried to explain. I know I’m not allowed in that seat, but this was important. Daddy got off the road and put me back in my space. He told me if I didn’t behave, I couldn’t see the Cadillac Ranch. Then he put my lunchbox between the seat to block me. This was serious. I have to admit, I laid down and copped an attitude at first. Daddy has this saying sometimes, “Fuck ‘em. Let them make their own mistakes if they don’t wanna listen.” He was usually talking about his bosses. I pouted a little and thought the same thing about Daddy. But it turned out Daddy was right. This was a long ride to somewhere new – an adventure, not a trip. Daddy stopped the car a lot to let me out and stretch my legs and pee.  We drove all the way to Amarillo. Daddy said I was so good that we would definitely stop at the Cadillac Ranch in the morning. We got a room at something called a “motel.” There were two beds, one for me and one for Daddy. I decided that I wanted to sleep next to Daddy in his bed. He didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure he had forgiven me for my bad behavior a long way back.

Day 2 and the first stop is the Cadillac Ranch! This was a cool place – a bunch of old cars sticking out of the mud in the middle of a cow pasture. The dirt trail up to the cars was rock hard but there were good scents on the ground. I could spend some time here! When we got close, there were cans of spray paint all over the ground. The empty ones were turned over and the ones with paint still in them were turned straight up. Daddy let go of my leash and told me to stay. He walked into the mud pit around the cars and painted my name on one of the cars. I don’t like mud on my feet so I waited for Daddy to get done. A nice boy took some pictures of us. On the way back to the car Daddy let me wander into the cow pasture to poop. I have a container of poop bags attached to my harness and Daddy always puts my poop in a bag when we take walks. This time he didn’t. I suppose if cows use this field to poop it doesn’t really matter.

On the way back to the car, there was a man and his wife on the side of the road. The man was on a scooter like the one our friend Douglas rides. Douglas has a dog called McLaird and we see them at the park a lot. This man didn’t have a dog. Daddy stopped and asked the man if he needed any help. The man said that his scooter wouldn’t fit through the pasture gate but the view from the road was good enough for him. The Cadillac Ranch was on his bucket list of things to see. Daddy showed him pictures on our camera of what it looks like close-up. The man and his wife were real friendly and petted me a lot. They said I was beautiful and asked if Daddy would take a picture of them and me. Daddy took one with their camera and took one on ours as well. Yippee! New friends! I’m beginning to like this adventure a whole lot. But what’s a bucket list?

Daddy said we wouldn’t drive so far today. We drove to a city named Albuquerque. We stopped at several rest areas. The first had a dog park so I could run off leash. I played with another dog there. We got along great. But, jeez, was it hot. I didn’t play long. At the second stop, the nice people let me go into the gift shop and Dairy Queen. Daddy says that different places have different rules. Back home it’s against the rules for pets to go into the big building at Nathaniel Greene Park. But there’s one lady there that always makes an exception for me. Being friendly and well-behaved has it’s advantages. When we got to the hotel the ladies at the reception desk loved all over me. Daddy calls me a “chick magnet.” I’m not sure what that means but it sure sounds funny. I got to eat in the breakfast area in the morning as well.

We stopped at a place called Tombstone the next day. They wouldn’t let me in Boothill Graveyard, but they let me walk the historic district in the downtown area and even into one of the stores. You could take a tour on a trolly - $10 for adults, under 5 rides free. Hey! I’m under 5. But Daddy said no, we needed our daily walk. On the highway south to Tombstone there was a Border Patrol check-point. All cars headed north were being checked. Daddy told me a story. He called it his “duh” moment. It seems Daddy knew Tombstone was in Arizona but didn’t know it was so close to the Mexican border. No wonder so many bad men gathered there. They could cross the border in minutes to go where the law couldn’t get them. Murderers, thieves, rapist, gun smugglers. Daddy says Trump had it right all along. He just had his history and directions mixed up.

When we were stopped by the Border Patrol heading back, Daddy opened my window in the back so I could stick my head out. He said, “They’ll want to search inside that big green suitcase for sure. I could fit a couple of kilos into that thing. Sally, do your best ambassador-of-good-will act.” I’m not sure what he meant, but I stuck my head out and let the Border Patrol officer pet me on top of my head. The officer said, “Beautiful dog. You’re Ok. Go on through.” What’s a kilo?

Tucson was wonderful. We stayed there for two days. They have a great park there with water fountains and shady trees. And grass! I haven’t seen much of that out here.
The hotel ladies were real friendly there, too. A nice man named Mark came by the hotel for an interview. I'm not sure what an interview is, either. But he was nice and he talked with Daddy for about an hour and sang me some songs. I could smell some dog scent on him. He said he had two dogs – a Labrador named Layla and a Huskie-Cow Dog mix named Jack. I know some Labradors but I’ve never met a cow dog. I was super tired and I needed my sleep for the journey home. Daddy went to a club where Mark was playing and I dozed off. The sun sure stays up a long time out here and the earth’s gravitational field just doesn’t seem right to me. I woke Daddy up early in the morning. He seemed a little out of sorts, but he rubbed my head anyway. “Only one stop on the way home - Tucumcari. That’s where I used to stop on the way back from trips to California with my sons. There’s some cool older hotels there in the downtown area. Cheap, too.”
Road trip with Baby 2005
All in all, I think Great Aunt Baby DID make the trip. Daddy says dogs have souls. I want to do this again. Please, Daddy! But first I want to rest up. 

Bonus tracks:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Remembering Danny Kirwan

[edited from a 2003 article I wrote for Big O, Singapore's only independent music publication]
-by Bill Glahn-
Sometimes you just have to go spiritual to keep from going postal. For me "going spiritual" has always been to put down the newspaper and pick up a book. Or to turn off CNN/Fox News and put on some music. That isn’t the same thing as burying your head in the sand. You can do THAT reading the New York Times or tuning in to The O’Reilly Factor.

This past week was one of those weeks for me. I needed a reprieve from the taxation of maintenance living. So I dusted off a 34-year-old album that I remembered liking but couldn’t remember why and a 13-year-old book about what is possibly the most complex "simple" song ever recorded.

Fleetwood Mac fans are mostly divided into two camps these days, the smaller one consisting of guitar obsessives who favor the blues styling of Peter Green. By far the larger of the two fan bases is the one that favors the latter (post-'74) line-up fronted by the smart pop sensibilities of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the enticing sexuality of a chanteuse-turned-arena warbler, Stevie Nicks.

Sandwiched in between there was another Fleetwood Mac - one with a shifting line-up and varying styles. It was one that was hard to get a handle on, but also one that moved beyond its inconsistency to record some of the best (and most overlooked) songs in the group’s history. It’s easy to forget that the band recorded six albums of new material in the post-Green, pre-Nicks era (1970-1974).

For the first three of those albums, Danny Kirwan, who will never be known as a household name in the annals of rock 'n' roll, played a significant part in providing some of the best tracks. The first venture into life-after-Green, Kiln House, primarily served as an exorcism of the remaining members’ rock 'n' roll roots (buried for years as a mostly slow to mid-tempo blues outfit under Green). But it also yielded the stunning "Station Man.” If Kirwan was not a particularly adept improvisational guitarist, he was, at the very least, one that could come up with a lyrical six-string component that could carry a song for five or six minutes. As well as a wordsmith who kept things deceptively simple. Much of the charm of Kirwan's lyrics were in their tempered optimism.

It was not Kiln House that I dusted off, though. It was Bare Trees, Kirwan's final opus with the band. Mostly noted for the sugar substitute, low-calorie flavorings of "Sentimental Lady," Kirwin’s influence in the band was waning. But the album’s title track, a two-line chorus, a two-line lyric and an outburst of pentecostal exuberance penned by Kirwan, dwarfs Bob Welch’s nonsensical paean to gentle love.

The lyrics of "Bare Trees" are anything but sweet. Using an economy of words, Kirwan paints a cold picture. Then the words stop and the spirit lifting begins.

Bah do dah, do dah da do da do
Bah do dah, do dah da do wah wah

It’s sung with such fervor that it reduces the rest of the lyrics to lies. It’s a cold world? Bah do dah bullshit. You are at the mercy of others? Do dah da do da do. Don’t you believe it. The truth doesn’t always come in the form of words. Lies always do.

Rama lamma fa fa fuck that shit!

Maybe the best book ever written about a single song was Dave Marsh’s "Louie Louie."

The FBI investigated that notorious song for a full two years, cementing the myth that it contained obscene lyrics to such an extent that over four decades later there are still high school principals trying to ban it from the repertoire of their marching bands.

At the time, the governor of Indiana made the fantastic statement that his attempts to stop radio programmers in the state from playing it were not the same as censorship. The irony is that "Louie Louie," as recorded by The Kingsmen, was unintelligible at any speed. They might as well have been singing "a wop bop a lu bop a lop bam boom." But in all its innocence, it was subversive. Maybe what scared the Feds more than anything were the words that were most clearly stated. "Let’s give it to ‘em, right now!"

As I neared the end of my sabbatical from the rat race this week, I remembered what it was about "Bare Trees" that I liked. Like "Tutti Frutti," "Rocket Reducer No. 62," "Louie Louie" and countless other songs that invoke "speaking in tongues," bah-do-dah lifted my spirits. And it didn’t lie to me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lost In The Flood: Manic Street Preachers, Know Your Enemy (did not chart in U.S.)

Manic Street Preachers: Know Your Enemy
-review by Bill Glahn-

[Note: This review was written in 2001 upon the album's release. It was recently unearthed while going through some files of my previous writing. It was never published. Know Your Enemy was highly successful around the world (Top 10 in most European countries, High chart positions in Japan, New Zealand & Australia as well) but failed to chart in the U.S. That says more about American media than the worthiness of the album. When the band chose to start the Know Your Enemy tour in Cuba, it proved "all too much" in the dawning of the new age of McCarthyism. If songs about Paul Robeson, Elian Gonzalez, and the symbolism of Guernica hadn't already doomed the record, it's fate became sealed the September after its release. In "Baby Elian" the band sings "You don't just sit in a rocking chair/ When you've built a revolution." It's an important line to remember in 2018.]

The most riveting scene in the opening episode of 100 Centre Street, the Art & Entertainment Network’s smart courtroom drama series, takes place in a restaurant between Judge Joe Rifkind (Alan Arkin) and Judge Attallah Sims (LaTanya Richardson). Rifkind is a liberal Jewish ex-cop who has seen all the barriers that can destroy lives among the poor in New York from street level. As a judge, he has earned the nickname “let ‘em go Joe” for his lenient sentences and willingness to offer a second chance to the defendants that he comes across in night court. His polar opposite, Sims, a black lesbian conservative, has earned the nickname “Attallah The Hun” for her stiff sentencing practices.

Judge Rifkind had recently been faced with a defendant with a history of minor crime who was in court for turnstile jumping. The defendant has already been in jail for two days waiting for a hearing and the maximum allowable punishment is three days. The public defender explains that his client is scheduled to start a new job the next day and asks for a sentence of time served. Viewing the job as an opportunity for the young defendant to put his life on the right track, Rifkind agrees. The defendant immediately goes on a crime spree and kills a rookie cop on her first patrol. An infuriated administrative judge tells Rifkind that he let him “swing alone” for his perceived trespass. The media learns of the judge’s unflattering nickname and a feeding frenzy erupts.

Rifkind and Sims meet over supper between sessions to discuss their scheduling. Sims offers to sit in for Rifkin to divert some of the media heat. Rifkind declines, stating that he will not allow media pressure and circumstances to interfere with the judicial process. Unsaid, but probably a consideration as well, is Sims reputation as a tough jurist.

Then Rifkind asks The Question. “How did you get to be this way?” To which Sims provides The Answer. “When I was 8 years old I was dragged under my front porch and every orifice in my body was penetrated. This was done by people who I had known all my life. Joe, there really are evil people in this world.”

It’s an intensely affecting moment. Rifkin and Sims, despite the immense differences in the way they view the world, become allies. But what if The Question had never been asked?

The first page in the booklet that accompanies The Manic Street Preachers new album “Know Your Enemy” presents a quote from Susan Sontag. “The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions.” It’s a brilliant piece of philosophical thinking that, when taken further underlines the importance of the question. That the Manic Street Preachers realize this is what makes “Know Your Enemy” an important work for our times.

Rather than egotistically state “This is our point of view and we’re going to stuff it down your throats” – the Preachers set up their questions brilliantly. Most significant is their homage to Paul Robeson, “Let Robeson Sing”. It’s a fascinating choice of topic matter. Robeson was the first black man to graduate from the Columbia School of Law and was prohibited from practicing as an attorney because of his race. So instead, he became one of the great singers and performers of the 20th century. Despite the obvious injustice, Robeson remained a patriot, bent not on destroying democracy, but to make it available for all peoples. Included in “Let Robeson Sing” is a sample of Robeson reading “Freedom Train”. Its logic and grace are indisputable. The Preachers have done it justice by wrapping it in one of their most beautifully crafted songs. During the Cold War, Robeson believed that dialogue between America and Russia was so important that he actually traveled to Russia. During the McCarthy era, this was immediately considered a treasonous act, and labeling him a Communist effectively ruined Robeson’s career. Robeson vehemently denied this (eventually exonerated) but it didn’t deter him from trying to start a dialogue with Castro as well. His passport was pulled before he ever got the chance.

While acknowledging the importance of dialogue, The Manic Street Preachers recognize that there are indeed evil people in the world when they name-check Guernica (“My Guernica”). Guernica was the Spanish town that was bombed into oblivion in 1937 by the Nazis even though it held no strategic purpose other than to test-drive the Blitzkrieg. It inspired Pablo Picasso’s greatest work (named “Guernica” after the town), a 25 foot mural of immense despair. Picasso intended the painting to be a gift to his home country of Spain, but only after Spain had become a democratic nation. A number of years after Franco was finally planted the painting was finally delivered to Picasso’s native land.
“The Convalescent” follows underlining the importance of The Question. “DNA means ‘does not accept.”

With this groundwork, The Preachers invite The Question(s), “How does a 6-year old child view the Promised Land?” (Baby Elian) “Is freedom of speech enough?” (Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children). In "Let Robeson Sing" the band asks "Can anyone write a protest song?" They destroy that question throughout Know Your Enemy.

Bonus listens: Live in Cuba

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Willie Nelson: Stayin' Alive

Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
-review by Bill Glahn-

Music industry attorney, Joel Katz, tells a story in Willie Nelson’s 1988 autobiography: “I have in ten years only seen Willie get mad at me one time. Real mad. I…. brought an estate plan to show him how he could earn and keep more money for himself and for his family. Willie erupted.” According to Katz, Nelson stomped out of the room, only to return, much calmer, fifteen minutes later. “You’ve got to understand my philosophy of life, Joel,” Nelson explained. “I want the people around me to be happy, but I look at life as a roller coaster. When I’m up, I’m up, and when I’m down, I’m down, and I hope when it’s all over, the money runs out just about the same time that I’m through with my life.”

More than 3 decades later, Nelson is still making albums at a clip of better than 1 per year and touring extensively. Not that there haven’t been some setbacks. When Nelson cancelled some dates earlier this year with a bout of the flu, some fans speculated that the end of the road was near. But if you’ve been following Nelson for any length of time, you’d know that Willie’s gonna do what Willie’s gonna do. That includes his relationship with mortality. He is, after all, “Gods Problem Child.”

That doesn’t mean Nelson isn’t thinking about the inevitable. On the album’s opening (title) track, he addresses something that occurs with increasing frequency in later years – the passing of friends. He lists a few by name and laments, “it cuts like a wore out knife.” But Nelson turns it into some dark humor, “I don’t wanna be the last man standing, on second thought maybe I do.”

Death is a more frequent topic on Last Man Standing than previous albums. But this is no pity party. Nelson’s always been a master at turning a phrase. And there’s some doozies on his latest. Who else but Willie could use “halitosis” in a lyric and get away with it? “Halitosis is a word I never could spell, but bad breath is better than no breath at all.” What makes Last Man Standing such a joy are the number of laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout. God says, “Willie, we need you up here. Bill Hicks hasn’t come up with a new joke in years.” Willie says, “Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded, so I think I’ll just stay where I am.”

But don’t get the idea that Last Man Standing is top-to-bottom songs about mortality and death. There’s enough first-rate love-gone-wrong weepers mixed in to keep the jukeboxes playing for at least a few more years. The good news here, is that Nelson has gotten the “songbook” phase out of his system for several albums in a row and he’s writing new classics at a pace that defies logic or statistics. He’s proving to be a little bit Mark Twain and a little bit Benjamin Button. And a whole lotta Willie. And his estate planning? Well, there’s also a deluxe edition (3 extra songs) available at that gathering place for his oldest fans, Cracker Barrel.