John Prine

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George Rose/Getty Images

John Prine’s first album came out in 1971, the year I graduated from high school and entered college.  I can’t remember if it was David Williams or Mitch Kellam who turned me on to it, but in any case, has a better debut album ever been released?  I mean “Illegal Smile,” “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” and “Angel from Montgomery” all on the same record, a masterpiece.

What distinguishes Prine from most from most other songwriters is a combination of imagination and empathy. Like a talented fiction writer, he creates characters we care about and places them in a world that’s palpably real.

Take, “Hello in There,” a song about the loneliness of old age. The lyrics stand up remarkably well by themselves unaccompanied by music:

We had an apartment in the city
Me and Loretta liked living there
Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown
A life of their own left us alone
John and Linda live in Omaha
And Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davy in the Korean war
And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen
Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy
We worked together at the factory
But what could I say if asks “What’s new?”
“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do”

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

Not only could John do sad, he also could be really funny. Take “Illegal Smile,” for example.

When I woke up this morning, things were lookin’ bad
Seem like total silence was the only friend I had
Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down… and won
And it was twelve o’clock before I realized
That I was havin’ no fun

But fortunately I have the key to escape reality
And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while
Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
No I’m just tryin’ to have me some fun

Last time I checked my bankroll,
It was gettin’ thin
Sometimes it seems like the bottom
Is the only place I’ve been
I Chased a rainbow down a one-way street dead end
And all my friends turned out to be insurance salesmen

But fortunately I have the key to escape reality
And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while
Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
No I’m just tryin’ to have me some fun

Well, I sat down in my closet with all my overalls
Tryin’ to get away
From all the ears inside my walls
I dreamed the police heard
Everything I thought… what then?
Well I went to court
And the judge’s name was Hoffman

Ah but fortunately I have the key to escape reality
And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while
Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
No I’m just tryin’ to have me some fun
Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun

When John contracted the Virus, I figured that with only one lung, he was a goner, and sure enough, he’s a long gone daddy now.  However, what a body of work he has left behind. If his debut self-titled album is the only one you know, check out this link from Billboard.

And I’ll leave you with this duet with Iris Dement before the YouTube people snatch it away.

 

 

An Old Man and Phish

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Last night at the Phish concert I met a young man named Will wearing a crown . We struck up a conversation on the floor of the ugliest arena this side of Vladivostok, the North Charleston Coliseum.  Will asked me how many of Phish’s shows I’d seen.  I said, “None, nada, not a fan.” Tongue in cheek, I told him that I was there in the capacity of a cultural anthropologist who studies cults.  Smiling, he asked if I would like some chemical stimulation to aide in my explorations and whipped out a small wooden box containing a white chalky worm of a substance.

“What’s that?”  I asked.

“LSD,”  he said matter-of-factly.

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In the mists of the previous century, I had dropped acid a few times, but it didn’t look like this stuff he was showing me.  Back then it came in tabs.  You put it on your tongue, and in the course of an hour, the people you didn’t particularly like appeared in your friend’s living room at a great distance, wee insignificant presences on the edge of a psychedelic horizon. To wax not very poetical, it fucked you way way up.

I declined his kind offer, and he looked genuinely disappointed.

This was King Will’s tenth show.  He had left Birmingham, Alabama, at four a.m. and driven straight to the coliseum. I had expected, from what I’d read, to see a lot more people in costumes, and there were a few sparkly capes and a couple of medieval get-ups, but all in all, an ungracious un-plenty of dress-up. The audience consisted  predominantly of white males in the mid-30s to mid-40s range.[1]  Everyone I encountered — couples strolling by, customers waiting in line for $14 Bud Lite Tallboys, audience members jostling for positions on the floor — were incredibly well-mannered.  I wish I’d kept a count of the number of excuse me(s) and sorry(s) I heard. The audience’s devotion to Phish, it seemed to me, had united them in a common ethos of let-the-good-times-roll hedonism, a communal mellowness that was quite pleasant.

Standing there in the throng of the sold-out arena, I thought of Trump rallies and the very different vibe of those mass gatherings.  I imagined the cultists coming to see Trump, feeding on the communal buzz, having somehow been dosed with some low-wattage gummy bears, and instead of Donald J stalking on stage, out comes Phish singing a cappella “Nothing Could Be Finer Than to be in Carolina in the morning,” which, in fact, was their first song. How would the MAGA folk react?  They would love it, I suspect.  Sweet harmony.

After “Carolina in the Morning,” the band cranked into their stock-and-trade, jazzy improvisational forays into eclectic genres, funk, folk country, the blues, a cocktail mix of the Dead, Santana, Frank Zappa.  Alas, I’ve never been into jam bands, the riffs outpacing my attention span, failing to hypnotize me, unlike the people up in the stands, who were swaying, smiling, singing along whenever a lyric would intrude on a solo.

It’s genuinely a phenomenon, a cult of sorts, sold-out show after sold-out show, three nights in a row, completely fresh set lists, many taking in all three performances, an orgy of good vibes. Here’s the pre-intermission set list provided by a kind extrovert.

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Me, alas, too damned cerebral, jotting down notes, my pith helmet blocking the strobe of a million-dollar lightshow, a stationary dot among the sway.


[1] I don’t recall seeing an African American among the audience.

Keystone Kops, Kold Turkey, and House Koncerts

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Last night, Caroline, Brooks, and I attended Porter-Gaud’s Homecoming, and, of course, several people asked me how I liked retirement and what I was doing with my life.

Well, spending an inordinate amount of time screeching an ATT robots, listening to music manufactured by ATT for people on hold (martial drum machines, melodies based on the three signature tones of their branding, music certainly composed to encourage the holder to hang-up, if not take her own life).  Oh yeah, and talking to American and Asian troubleshooters — all in vain.

It’s Kafka meets the Keystone Kops.  You see, last Friday, my Internet went out.  I glanced out of the window to see a backhoe gouging a hole in my yard.  Subcontractors from Anson had come to repair what didn’t need to be repaired, severed the wire that conveys to me the digital world to which I’ve become hopelessly addicted.[1]

Because the two incompetent subcontractors didn’t “close the ticket,” I was left in limbo.  I finally got a new ticket, an appointment set up on last Tuesday from 4 to 8 pm.  I could track my technician, who at 8 am that morning had just left and at 8:30 pm had just left, the linear map on my screen having forever frozen him one stop from the dispatch center.  Of course, he or she never showed.  There had been “a computer glitch,” and because that ticket was invalid, other tickets that had been issued subsequently to other customers had to be honored.  So they’re supposedly coming out next Tuesday.

In happier news, Caroline and I hosted our very first ever house concert featuring politico sibling singer songwriter Fleming Moore and the hugely talented Danielle Howle, who is going to be included in the Oxford American music cd featuring performers from the Palmetto State.

Here are some photos taken by another Lowcountry musician Stefanie Timmerman.

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Fleming Moore

 

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Danielle performing during a mud slide

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George Alan Fox and I discussing the immense panorama of futility and anarchy that is contemporary history

Danielle take us away to some darker dilemma than the First World problems I whine about.


[1] Picture me as Miles Davis going cold turkey, trembling like a victim of Huntington’s disease, beaded sweat bursting into torrents, puddling the rug where I writhe in fetal position.

Dressing the Part

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String Bean Akeman

Ken Burns’ latest epic documentary Country Music is [cue embarrassed throat-clearing] educational.

Of course, I’m well aware of the tradition of minstrel shows, but I didn’t realize that at the Grand Ole Opry (and less famous venues) white performers sometimes blackened their teeth, donned battered straw hats, and smoked corncob pipes to appeal to  audiences, who, if you check out vintage videos, appear to be well-dressed and well-groomed.  In other words, for whatever reason —  nostalgia perhaps? — they embraced the stereotypes of impoverished hillbillydom.

Although I don’t remember my maternal great-grandmother, my mama told me that she smoked a corncob pipe, and her son, whom we, the grandchildren, called Kiki, suffered dental deficiencies that made some of those blackened-tooth hillbillies look like Eric Estrada.  Although he spoke perfect grammar (albeit in a thick Dorchester county brogue), Kiki had to quit school in the third grade to work on the family farm.  I remember visiting his sister Creesie, who, in fact, didn’t have indoor plumbing, though she did own a large, imposing, non-functional organ. I was absolutely terrified of roosters, and my scampering to the outhouse was a harrowing experience. You can read about it in detail here.

Kiki was a big fan of country music and performed himself as a young man in quartets.  If I was at his house on a Saturday afternoon, I’d be subjected to about three straight hours of country and western on Channel 5, and I became slightly familiar with some of the artists featured in Burns’ documentary, for example, Little Jimmy Dickens, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner, and Dolly Parton – all of whom I looked down at from the bridge of my freckled Scots-Irish nose.

None of the above-mentioned performers chose to come off as impoverished hillbillies. Porter and Dolly had their suits made by Nudie Cohn, who also fashioned Elvis’s stage costumes.  Minnie Pearl, of course, a caricature created by Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, wore gingham dresses and her signature straw hat with its $1.98 price tag attached, but she was a gentle satirist, and Minnie such a delightful persona that you couldn’t help but like her.[1]

porter and dolly

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At any rate, I’ve been able to overcome my childhood prejudice and now appreciate Hank Williams, Sr., Waylon and Willie, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Graham Parsons, Roseanne Cash, Dwight Yokum, and several other performers.  The Burns documentary is introducing me to artists who had slipped through the canyon-like crevices of my spotty education.

Perhaps earlier in my life, these country stereotypes hit a little too close to home.  Poor Aunt Creesie, poor Cousin Trim. We didn’t attend either one of their funerals.


[1] By the way, Sarah Ophelia Colley, who had a theater degree from Ward-Belmont College, purchased that famous hat in Aiken, SC.

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The late great Gram Parsons sporting the coolest country costume of all time

Miles Davis’s Restless Musical Journey

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Illustration by Oliver Barrett of The Atlantic

Although I’m not a musician, I seem to find myself hanging with them an awful lot.  For example, in college I roomed with Warren Moise and accompanied him and his band Wormwood on many a gig.  When Warren decided to drop out and make a go at being a professional musician, he invited me to join Wormwood as soundman or light man or something or another, but I stuck to the unglamorous academic life of a sophomore living in Tenement 9 in the so-called Horseshoe of the University of South Carolina.[1]  Later Warren later returned to school, became a lawyer, but still writes songs, like this one recorded by the Band of Oz.

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The next year I moved off campus with another musician, Stan Gibbons, who played bass for a rock cover band called Buddy Roe. After Buddy Roe broke up, Stan got into jazz, and it was he who turned me on to the Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, which I didn’t dig, and believe me, I got to hear it on numerous occasions, like non-stop for a couple of months. I still don’t dig it, but now that I’ve finished Ian Carr’s two-inch thick (658 pages) Miles Davis, The Definitive Biography, I have come to appreciate why Davis became such a restless innovator and to see his refusal to settle for the profitable status quo as a mark of heroic artistry.

Born to upper middle class parents, Miles Dewey Davis III grew up in East St. Louis where his father practiced dentistry.  Although he grew up in a household awash in music, it was classical music that his African American family embraced. His sister played the piano and his mother the violin.  As Carr puts it in the biography, “After Emancipation, it was the professional men and ministers of the church who were the heads of the new black society, and they were at pains to get rid of any customs that were too ‘negroid’ or which harked back to slavery.  It often happened that leading black citizens became the most fanatical imitators of white society. ”

However, that great corrupter of youth in those days, the radio, turned Miles onto Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, and Roy Eldridge, so he took up the trumpet, played in the school band, but also at social clubs.  By the time he was sixteen and still in high school, he had joined a music union and came under the tutelage of Clark Terry.  This was in the 40’s.  Once he graduated, he talked his parents into letting him go the Juilliard instead of Fisk University.  At the Juilliard, he lived what Carr calls “a Jekell and Hyde” existence, trafficking with classical music by day and jazz, particularly bebop, by night.

Bebop was the first jazz innovative movement Davis got into.  Soon, he found himself attending Charlie Parker gigs, and in 1945 he joined Charlie Parker’s group. During this period, he shared the stage with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane.

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Trane and Dizzy

So began his career, a career that featured a series of departures that usually irked the mainstream jazz community.

Weary of bebop, Davis and cronies Gil Evans and Jerry Mulligan among others started experimenting with the idea of having their instruments imitate human voices, creating  more melodic jazz than bebop.  After this so-called “birth of the cool” phase, Davis, now hooked on heroin, played what is called “hard bop.”  He signed with Prestige records and locked in a room by himself kicked his H habit cold turkey, .  Next came modal jazz, and in 1959 Davis released Kind of Blue, which is the best selling jazz album of all time.  In the 60s as rock replaced jazz as the cool pop music, Miles embraced the sound of the guitar, and “went electric,” much to the chagrin of jazz purists, and hence Bitches Brew.

 After Wynton Marsalis publically criticized Miles for abandoning “real jazz,” Miles responded:

What’s [Marsalis] doin’ messin’ with the past?  A player of his caliber should just wise up and realize it’s over . . . Some people, whatever is happening now, either they can’t handle it or they don’t want to know. They’ll be messed up on that bogus ‘nostalgia’ thing. Nostalgia shit!  That’s a pitiful concept.  Because it’s dead, it’s safe – that’s what that shit is about!  Hell, no one wanted to hear us when we were playing jazz. Those days with Bird, Diz, Trane – some were good, some were miserable . . . People didn’t like that stuff then. Hell, why do you think we was playing clubs?  No one wanted us on prime-time TV.  The music wasn’t getting across, you dig!  Jazz is dead![2]

Point taken: innovation is often frowned upon, misunderstood. Why, after all the success of Born in the USA, did Springsteen follow that up with Nebraska?  Why did Dylan abandon acoustic folk for the electric guitar, and why does he constantly reconfigure his songs so that at a concert he might be halfway through “Blowin’ in the Wind” before you recognize it?

Maybe because for them it has gotten old, stale.  You don’t have to like the new product; I much prefer Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew.  However, unless you’re a great musician, you probably should keep your mouth shut and let the masters do their thing.

It’s your thang, do what you wanna do.

I can’t tell you, who to sock it to.


[1]You can read about my travails with my roomies here, a situation that had me literally threatening to hang myself to university officials.

[2]I suspect Miles used a different mode of expression at Juilliard.

 

The Rattle of Bones and Chuckle from Ear to Ear: A Tribute to Tom Waits

Editor’s Note: My old blog Late Empire Ruminations is coming down soon, so I’m curating pieces from there that are not so topical. This post comes from September 2010.

Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege for the strong. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Trans. Walter Kaufmann)

The phrase that gives this blog its name – ragwater, bitters, and blue ruin – comes from the Tom Waits song “9th and Hennipen” where

All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes

And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky.

Tom Waits, the man, I think, could be Frederick Nietzsche’s poster boy for Beyond Good and Evil.  TW is a man who has created and recreated himself, always pushing into the future, ignoring the insect buzz of the masses to remain absolutely true to himself.  Although not quite [cue Dusty Springfield] the son of a preacher man (like Nietzsche himself, Jung, and Hesse), Waits is pretty damned close, the son of two California school teachers, who by profession had to preach the status quo, part of what Yeats dismissed as “the noisy set/Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergyman/The martyrs call the world.”

This pigeonholing may be unfair to Waits’ parents who perhaps on the first day of school each year refused to hold their hands to their hearts and pledge alliance to the flag of the United States of America, but I kind of doubt it.  After his parents divorced, Waits lived with his mother in Richard Nixon’s hometown of Whittier, California.  Once he had a record contract in hand, TW moved to the Tropicana Motel in LA.  Living the nightmare you might say.

Waits Lounging in his room at the Tropicana c. 1976

More and more it seems to me that the philosopher, being of necessity a man of tomorrow, has always found himself, and had to find himself, in contradiction to his today: his enemy was always the ideal of today.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

What went right here?  How did this middle class product come to eschew 1) the comforts and security of carpeted dens for seedy decadence 2) the prevalent hippie zeitgeist of the 60’s for the retro Beatnikism of Cassidy and Kerouac 3) rock-n-roll for jazz, later jazz for polka?  

Always restless, TW has never settled on one groove, no matter how lucrative.  Only perhaps the German language is equipped to produce a label for his music: Volktingedbluejazzindustrocabaretmusick.

In the course of the 38 years since TW signed his first recording contract, he has produced a body of high quality popular music that deserves inclusion in the pantheon that houses Bob Dylan, Cole Porter, and Johnny Mercer.  As the Wall Street Journal’s (the very mouthpiece of hipdom) pop critic Jim Fusilli raves: 

Interestingly enough, in later years, TW’s has shifted from the streets of New Orleans and piano jazz eastward to the cabarets of Weimar Berlin and accordion-laced rumbas.  Among the many influences on Waits’s body of work – Stephen Foster, Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael – stand Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, late practitioners of German Expressionism, working their dark magic in the black shadows of Nietzsche’s colossal influence.  How appropriate that Wait’s first musical Frank’s Lost Years debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater and that his collaboration with William S. Burrows, The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bulletsopened in 1991 in Hamburg.  In his most recent incarnations, he seems German, a sort of Chaplinesque figure, part Kafka, part Brecht, a sort of skid row ubermensch who by heroically forsaking the comforts of mediocrity descended into an underworld of gothic grotesqueries and emerged triumphant, the master of his own fate, a hero armed with the secret knowledge of suffering.

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse

With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet

til you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen…

And I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all

Through the window of the evening train.

Weekday Road Trip, Featuring Live: Steve Earle, Beto O’Rourke, and the Mighty Dukes

Steve Earle and the Dukes At Francis Marion U. Performing Arts Center Tuesday 27 August 2019

BBQ and Alt American Heroes

For the last couple of decades, on a weekday around 11:30, you’d likely find me at the cafeteria sneaking an early bite in hopes of avoiding the crush of famished adolescents who descend upon the regular lunch period.  But last Tuesday at 11:30, I was pulling into what my father-in-law Lee Tigner calls the omphalos of the barbeque world, Brown’s Bar-B-Que, right outside of Kingstree on North Hwy 52.

For our first anniversary, my wife Caroline bought us tickets[1]to a Steve Earle concert in Florence, South Carolina, a city on the move in an otherwise non-prosperous region of the Palmetto State.  On a whim, we decided to take the back roads and have lunch on the way.  The obvious choice was Brown’s.

If I should ever find myself on death row, I’m ordering Browns’ buffet for my last meal.[2]

Rice, roast beef stew, delicious tiny fried creek shrimp, fried catfish, mac and cheese, vinegary pepper barbeque (lean and clean), pork brusque, potato salad, coleslaw, desserts galore, including banana pudding, any condiment you could hope to have.[3]

Overstuffed but satisfied, we continued our journey racing graffiti-covered boxcars as they rumbled along parallel to us on 52.

As the outskirts of Florence became center city, we slowed down in anticipation of making a right turn when we saw on the sidewalk coming towards us this quirky bespectacled man sporting red knee-length shorts, a ZZ-Top-like beard, and long shoulder length hair.

Yes, it was the man himself, Steve Earle, American treasure, brilliant songwriter, and eclectic producer of a various strains of Americana music – blues, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, Celtic hybrids.  He’s also a published short story writer, novelist, and playwright. Probably, he was on his way to the Francis Marion Performing Arts Center, which was walking distance from our hotel and the Hyatt.  I’m embarrassed to say it, but it was sort of thrilling seeing him as a civilian, sporting what my pal Jake would call a dgaf [4]outfit.

Checking In and Out

The Hotel Florence is lovely and well staffed, and I don’t know why this happens, but when Caroline checked us in, they bumped us up to a two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and two full baths, shades of our honeymoon when we were bumped up to the Presidential Suite at the Grove Park Inn.  In both cases it was too much, appreciated, but under-utilized.

Despite the swanky digs, we weren’t in the mood to lounge around in our rooms.  We needed a drink, so I googled “bars in Florence,” and the most interesting name that came up was “Downtown Southern Funk,” located eight minutes away in the warehouse of Seminar Brewery, Florence’s oldest.

While we were in that cavernous space, the Manager asked if we wanted a free ticket to the concert that night.  We told him we were set, but he insisted we take the ticket and try to give it away at the venue.  So we took the ticket, and as we were chatting with a bartender, I said,” Hey, man, you really ought to take the ticket and go.”  He insisted he couldn’t because with Beto being there in a couple of hours, they’d need all the bartenders they could muster.

“Beto O’Rourke?”

“Yeah, he’s giving a town hall meeting here at six.”

We ended up giving the ticket to another patron, whom we saw later at the show and who picked up our tab.

 To Go or Not to Go

Back at the hotel, we contemplated.  The town hall started at 6, the concert at 7:30, which would mean an Uber to and fro, but ultimately, we opted for the rough and tumble of American democracy instead of the serenity of the hotel bar.

We arrived at about a quarter to six, and the lack of security surprised me: no metal detectors, no riffling through handbags.  I’d call it a modest crowd, mostly white.  We grabbed a couple of beers and chatted with Beto’s South Carolina chair, a lovely, articulate woman in her late twenties.

After a brief introduction from a state representative, Beto took the microphone and delivered his stump speech, which focused on guns and immigration.   Of course, he hails from El Paso, site of recent carnage, and I was somewhat surprised when he said the word “shit.”  “We need to quit selling that shit,” he said, referring to assault weapons. Indeed, how absurd that it’s legal to buy weaponry not intended for hunting or self-defense but for rapidly killing human beings, whether they be elementary school children, patrons of movies or gay bars, or Walmart shoppers.

Some smug, ramrod-erect old man interrupted Beto, who goofed by handing him the microphone. [5]The man launched into a screed claiming it was cellphones, not guns, that were to blame for the spate of American bloodbaths. No, these massacres are a by-product of educational dereliction, a consequence, he claimed, of society’s and government’s rejection of Yahweh and His Only Begotten Son.  Aides attempted to get the mike from him and finally succeeded.  Once Beto was able to speak, looking directly into the man’s face, he calmly mentioned that European countries also had high cellphone usage and were much less religious than the USA but rarely were the the scenes of mass shootings.

Once questions began, a young man with a baseball cap flipped backwards claimed that Trump was not a racist among a shower of boos as Caroline and I sidled outside to catch our Uber and hit the concert.

Beto at Seminary Brewing Tuesday 27 August 2019

 

The Francis Marion Performing Arts Center

Florence, or FloTown as the hipsters call it, is enjoying urban renewal, and you could sense a genuine pride in several of the residents we talked to about the transformation. They said that before the Performing Arts Center, you wouldn’t want to be in this section of town at night.  One actually compared it to Detroit. Now, it’s very peaceful, laidback, verdant.

Anyway, the area is now quite nice, and I agree with brochure we were handed when we entered  the Performing Arts Center that “the unique facility offers patrons an unusual level of intimacy, paired with sophisticated acoustics.”

The Concert

Steve came out and introduced the first act, the Mastersons, a husband-and-wife team consisting of superb guitarist Chris and exquisite fiddler Eleanor Whitmore, masters of technique and vocal harmony.

Alexandria, VA – July 18, 2017 – Steve Earle and The Dukes perform at The Birchmere. (Photo by Richie Downs)

They also accompanied Steve and the Dukes throughout the concert, which featured several covers of Guy Clark songs and a generous sampling of Steve’s greatest hits, which, as I have already said, cover the gamut of various Americana subgenres.

I can’t provide a complete set list but songs included Clark covers “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “Dublin Blues,” and “LA Freeway.”

Among Earle’s hits, we heard “Guitar Town,”  “Galway Girl,”  “Fort Worth Blues,”  “Copperhead Road,” and many others, including a car medley featuring Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets,”  “Sweet Little 66,” and “Pink Cadillac.”[6]

The Dukes sounded great, whether harmonizing a bluegrass number, plucking an Irish melody, or fuzzing dissonantly on one of his rockers.

A+

At the Francis Marion Performing Arts Center Tuesday 27 August 2019

The Dispensary

We walked home after the show, and instead of going back to the hotel, we hit the rooftop bar at the Dispensary.

It’s fairly dark up there and seating consists of sofa sets and coffee tables.  When we arrived, a couple of females nestled at a corner table, but that was it.  About a half an hour later, a college couple arrived, and the male gave his date a sort of a mini tour of the skyline before snuggling down on a sofa across the bar from us.

As we got up to leave, in stepped the Dukes: the above-mentioned Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, Ricky Ray Jackson, and Brad Pemberton (sans bassist Kelly Looney).  We told them how much we enjoyed the show, and Chris thanked us. I apologized for being intrusive, and he said, “Oh no, thanks for coming to the show.”

We hauled our glasses downstairs, the bartender thanked us, and that was that: a memorable post-retirement weekday, to say the least.

Selfie at the Dispensary Rooftop Bat Tuesday 27 August 2019


[1] Of course, the traditional gift for the first anniversary is paper.

[2]BTW, Mr. Earle has two dramatic monologue songs sung by death row denizens, “Bill Austin” and “Jonathan’s Song.”

[3] Or would it make more psychological sense to order a pack of saltines and a Carling Black Label beer?

[4] an acronym for “don’t give a fuck fig.”

[5]At these town halls, aides carry a separate microphone to field questions.

[6] Steve’s hero, Townes Van Zandt also covered “Racing in the Streets” on one of his live albums.