Tower of song #1: blood is thicker than water


Loooonggggg day today.

Long. Ass. Day.

More ‘negotiating with that illusion thang’ than usual, at work and at home today. Plus, I chipped a tooth, which is mostly just weird, as opposed to traumatic.

Last night in a thread over at the powder blue breadbox, the discussion was about everyone’s genealogy. I don’t know how this started, or for that matter, ended, but it’s had me lost in my head off and on during the day.

Anyway, that led to thoughts of my mom, who was caught up in tracing our family’s past, and the boxes I’ve still yet to go through in my study and the garage- her notes, pictures, etc. Since the move to this – the ‘new’ house, a lot of stuff has remained undone, but those boxes nag at me the most. That alone is strange because there’s really not much in them that I need to get along from day to day, as opposed to the other stuff I waited too long to unpack, the clothing, receipts, cooking implements etc.

But who knows what we really need to get along? Something that came up in the discussion last night was people claiming famous ancestors, and in general, people looking at their ‘roots’ in relation to their own selves.

My best guess re: my mother’s obsession was that it was a way to connect with history, in general, and with relation, in particular, to America and Texas. I think it was trying to make sense of the innate sense of place she felt and didn’t always understand. Also, the wonder of an actual connection that brought history alive, made it less abstract. To her, history was connection. My sister and I learned history at the dinner table, via my parents’ arguments about it, as well as the ‘your great great second cousin’s first wife’s house was burned during the battle of blah blah’ stories, which obviously, we didn’t appreciate at the time.

I have come to realize that my mother is part of the reason I fell in love with Gillian Welch’s music to begin with. It made no other sense. Musically, the huge umbrella categorization of ‘folk’ has, more often than not, left me yawning. In addition, intellectually, I didn’t want to like Welch at first, wanted to buy into the criticism that her approach was too studied or that she was appropriating, and/or mis-appropriating, a musical tradition to which she had no legitimate claim. So, yeah, I was bored by the musical genre myself, but damnit, all reactionary, “don’t be stealin’ my cracker homey’s tunes!”

Intellect quickly took a back seat, as did the yawning. To be honest, speaking personally, I think half the battle was won because she looks so goddamn much like my mother did in her youth. And like my cousins, and others in my family, those pictures in the boxes I haven’t finished opening, those lives attached to my mother’s index cards, xeroxed records from myriad county clerks’ offices, letters from ancient relatives. In other words, it’s a race memory thing, which of course addresses the former criticism. The other half of the battle was lost due to the simple fact that she and David Rawlings are just some damn good musicians.

In the second week of September 2001, I had just gotten “Time, the Revelator” and was falling under its spell. I remember that on either 9/11 or 9/12, I had a note in my calendar at work that Welch (and I think) Emmylou and Allison Krause were going to be on The Tonight Show, not something I usually watched. I remember the note but I have no idea whether the performance even took place.

I wasn’t part of the political online community during the days after 9/11, so my experiences of the initial, futile, attempts to process it weren’t related to online, but rather to phone calls, meals and visits with friends, endless discussions at work, watching television with and without the ex Mrs. Tex, with and without the sound on, and listening to Welch’s “Time the Revelator.” I remember more than once weeping late at night, listening to “I Dream a Highway,” long after Mrs. Tex had gone to bed

I’vc only seen Gillian and David live once, and I can’t wait till I can again. David, in particular, is a revelation. It’s like watching sound take physical form to watch him work that little old guitar of his. I couldn’t take my eyes off him when we saw them at the Gypsy Tea Room in Deep Ellum a few years ago with our friend Mary.

Mary, who is originally from West Virginia and the same general gene pool. We met Mary in New York after an old Austin friend called us and asked that we make her feel welcome. We had never met during our years in Austin but we had many mutual friends, plus that gene pool thing. The first time I got together with Mary we talked nonstop for five or seven hours, sitting out back on the tar roof in Park Slope.

Got the biggest f*cking ticket of my life in Waco on the way back home from that show in Dallas. We had taken the bird with us and he was in his travel cage, in the back seat. The entire, interminable, way up to Dallas, we had tried to teach him Mary’s name, since she wasn’t that thrilled that we were bringing him to begin with. We said it over and over but he never once repeated it the whole time we were there.

Two days later, on the way home, as soon as the state trooper approached the car after stopping us, for going 80 in a 60 mph zone, the bird began madly trying to get his attention, whistling the first bar of the “Andy of Mayberry” theme, bobbing his head up and down, sounding like some little green drag queen. “Peekaboo. Hellooooo. Hey baby! Mary! Ma-reeeeee! Helllloooo! Whatcha doin? May-reeeeeeee!”

Anyhoo, without further ado, Appalachian diaspora in the hizzy, below.