Elegy for the Mixed Tape

Elegy for the Mixed Tape

I think it was John Woodmansee who made me my first mixed tape, an eclectic collection of avant garde rock, Third World exotica, and jazz. He curated with care, making sure transitions were smooth, the Venn diagram of intersecting genres shaded with similarities, whether in pop-lit theme or in sonic overlapping – the B-52’s “Love Shack” followed by Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song,” for example. He labored over these productions, devoting hours into the effort of creating a gift both enjoyable and educational. 

Music as mutual friend.[1]

I, too, started making mixed tapes, mainly for students as rewards for significant achievements, like winning the year-end vocabulary bee or scoring the highest on our cumulative high school literature test. Occasionally, a former student runs across one of these relics and posts a photo on Facebook.

Amy Sexhauer’s award for being crowned Vocabulary Queen
Allison Zachery’s award tape

I also recall that ace student Larry Salley received one loaded with Stax classics, and he later played the tape over the stadium speakers before Porter-Gaud football games in his early days as the Cyclones’ announcer.

Jungle drums and tragic magic! 

1-2-3! 

“Land of 1,000 Dances!” 

“Slip Away!” 

“Think!” 

“Sitting on the Dock of the Bay!” 

“Mustang Sally!”

As I became better at producing mixed tapes and eventually mixed CDs, I did my best to match the music to the student’s personality. When I produced compilations for friends or acquaintances, I’d throw in tunes that probably hadn’t heard, cuts like Les McCann’s and Eddie Harris’s “Compared to What” from their Live at Montreux Jazz Festival 1969. It was actually a helluva lot of fun assembling these auditory collages – unlike, I would argue, creating and sharing a set list.  

What’s the difference, you ask? Physicality, that’s the difference. You can hold a mixed tape or CD in your hands. The folks at the Oxford American learned this the hard way. I subscribed to the OA last year to receive the CD included in their annual music edition, but when they replaced the CD this year with a playlist available through Spotify, I – and apparently many others – dropped the subscription. Guess what? Now the CD is back.

Furthermore, unlike on a playlist, time and space are finite on a cassette tape or compact disc. On cassettes, which needed to be flipped, I’d arrange the tracks as if they were appearing on an LP, the first songs on Side A and B rockers, the last cuts strong and long, like Warren Zevon’s “Desperados Under the Eaves.”  The limitation of space and time lends itself to compression, which enhances meaning, like in good poetry. You’re talking an hour’s drive instead of an open-ended series of songs. Most play lists lack form, resembling a radio broadcast rather than an artifact. They tend to be assembled rapidly – eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

My wife Caroline brought the topic Friday night at Harold’s Cabin as we lamented over Jamesons the sad state of incivility that characterizes post-Trumpian politics. Caroline cited the disappearance of the mixed tape as contributing to the on-going diminishment of cultural exchange. People long for the mixed tape, hence its image has become a meme, its miniature form dangling from charm bracelets and necklaces. I’ve seen it also on t-shirts. 

Perhaps, people gravitate towards images of mixed tapes because they represent a simpler, more three-dimensional, more concrete era before screens hypnotized and isolated us. Picking up my stepdaughter Brooks from Porter-Gaud in the afternoons, I see most students, heads bowed, staring down at their phones rather than bopping across the Green with a group of friends.

Streaming music isolates us; mixed tapes and CDs bring us together.

Les McCann and Eddie Harris: “Compared to What?”

[1] Mixed tapes are a great early courtship gift that allows the would-be beloved a peek into the aesthetic inclinations of the CD bearing courtier. Does it feature Rashaan Roland Kirk or Garth Brooks? These things matter.

Roll On, Roll On . . . 

photograph by Wesley Moore, a.k.a. I-and-I, a.k.a. Yours Truly

The night before last, Caroline and I saw the Rolling Stones for the second time in three years, which, as we say in Summerville, ain’t nothing. We had lunch yesterday with Tom and Kathy Herman in Little Five Points, and Tom told me that the Atlanta show was the third show he’d seen in the current tour.[1]

For this concert, his tickets were in the pit to the right of the stage and ours smack dab in the middle, just beyond the end of the jutting runway. Not surprisingly, the closer the proximity of the performers, the more expensive the ticket, and, hence, the more geriactic the concert goer.  In fact, most of the people around us could have been cast in the movie Cocoon, though they sported Stones’ tee-shirts and knew the words to every song. The ashen old man in front of me smiled broadly, swaying feebly as he held his phone aloft to record “Midnight Rambler.”  Yet, he left early. Standing up for three straight hours was too much for him.

Not for seventy-eight-year-old Mick. He danced, clapped, dervished, sang, stuck his tongue out a la the logo, a lean but amiable Dionysian machine, his on-stage persona friendly, making sure to mention local landmarks, addressing the audience as if he appreciated their presence.  Of course, on this evening, he gave a shout-out to the World Champion Atlanta Braves. 

Keith, on the other hand, seemed – to put it mildly – less robust. Ronnie Wood took up most of the guitar duties and killed it while Keith slowly wandered around playing mostly rhythm. Occasionally, while Ronnie was screeching a solo, the jumbotron showed Keith.

Still, the cat also turns 78 in December, and it ain’t like he was propped on a stool. If Charley Watts is/was the heartbeat of the Stones, Keith is its soul, conveying the darkness of the blues, howling wolves, muddy Mississippi waters, hearts shattered like beer glasses on the floors of Delta juke joints.

Keith is a walking, talking memento mori.

The set list for this show featured rarely performed “Shattered” from Some Girls and “She’s a Rainbow,” a period piece from the Stones’ blessedly short-lived foray into psychedelia. Of course, you can’t always get what you want, but I would have rather heard “Beast of Burden” from Some Girls and, if you wanna go obscure, why not “The Spider and the Fly” from Out of Our Heads, a truly great album, which also features “Play With Fire,” which would have been more than a worthy substitute for “She’s a Rainbow.”

Flashback: I guess I was about sixteen when I first heard “The Spider and the Fly,” and, I’m sort of ashamed to admit it, but I found the following lyrics disgusting:

She was common, flirty, she looked about thirty 
I would have run away but I was on my own 
She told me later she’s a machine operator 
She said she liked the way I held the microphone 
Then I said “hi” like a spider to a fly 
Jump right ahead in my web.

Yuk, thirty years old! Who would want to go home with a thirty-year old?

Yes, young readers, the cliches are accurate, a blink of the eye, calendar pages riffling, being torn off by the winds of time in a black-and-white movie that your great grandparents watched for a dime a second ago. 

However, to quote my man Andrew Marvell:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun 

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

In other words, after a Stones’ concert, you can either limp back to the hotel and retire, or hit the hotel bar, which at the Omni boasts a balcony overlooking the skyline, which on this particular night looked downright Boschian. As we sipped our drinks, Caroline regaled me with stories from her wanderings in North Viet Nam in the previous century as the sun dropped below the horizon of the British Empire.

And when we returned to the hotel room, we continued our conversation, talking about this and that, looking out over at another view of Atlanta, not wanting to go to sleep, yet looking forward to tomorrow, to our lunch with Kathy and Tom.

view from the hotel bar balcony

[1] By the way, Little Five Points is a funky, mural-rich blip of Bohemia in an otherwise seemingly staid state capital. Outside a vintage clothing shop, I ran into this fellow dressed up like Dr. John, complete with voodoo hat and tooth necklace, plus the male version of Dorthey’s ruby slippers from Oz.  I said something like, “Hey, mon, dig the Doctor John get-up.” His response, a blank contemptuous look.  I asked, “You’ve heard of Doctor, John, right?” He said no and asked me if I had ever heard of some bullshit name like ‘Magnifico, Light Bringer” and then proclaimed that he was Magnifico, Light Bringer, a magician, and then launched into this puffed-up Jesus spiel. I interrupted by saying “party on,” and split, though I felt like stealing the Tom Waits line and saying, “You know they ain’t no devil. That’s just God when he’s drunk.”

mural in Little Five Points, photograph by Caroline

My Sweet Tooth Says I Wanna, But My Wisdom Tooth Says No

Jamaican reggae musician, singer and producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry performs at Poppodium De Flux, Zaandam, Netherlands, 8th April 2018. (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)

Here’s what I’m not going to write about today:

Not about the Murdaughs of Colleton County whose family drama has entered the terrain of Greek tragedy, a once proud House suffering a Faulknerian fall akin to the Compsons’ collapse.

The Murdaugh saga commenced with drunken redheaded USC junior Paul Murdaugh crashing his boat and killing a passenger, followed by his and mother’s murder, their bodies discovered by father/husband Alex at the family hunting lodge. This weekend as Alex changed a tire on a country road, a bullet allegedly fired from a truck grazed his head. On Labor Day, he checked himself into rehab after resigning from his law firm amid accusations of missing millions. We’re talking two mini-series worth of real life Southern gothic mayhem that out-Outer-Banks Outer Banks.

Have at it, Netflix screenwriters. I’ve got better things not to do.

Not about Fletcher Henderson, underappreciated, who transformed Dixieland into Swing, led a big band that employed the likes of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, a band that provided the soundtracks for the Harlem Renaissance and Terrytoon animated shorts.

Fletcher Henderson

Not about Gandy Goose cartoons, an LSD substitute for tots, Gandy and pal Sour Puss bopping along, the jazz soundscape providing syncopation for the herky jerky action of the animation, often dream sequences with metamorphoses galore. BTW, Gandy Goose and Sour Puss sound as if they could be a Jamaican Dance Hall duo a la Yellowman and Fathead.

Not about Dub Shaman Scratch Perry, Reggae producer extraordinaire, mentor to Bob Marley, Scratch ping-ponging in the studio from synthesizer to guitar to drums in a creative dance that makes music rather than the music making the dance. An incredibly important figure in 20th century music that virtually no one has heard of.

Not about cherubic grandson Julian Levi Moore who just celebrated his two-month birthday.

So, that’s it. What are you not writing about today?

Wesley’s One Hit Hall of Fame

For whatever reason, the ol’ cerebral jukebox this morning had the 1966 novelty hit “Winchester Cathedral” playing in my head. Chances are you’ve never heard this New Vaudeville Band tune even though it won the Grammy for Best Contemporary R and R song that year (despite not being a rock-n-roll song). It features someone named John Carter singing through cupped hands a la Rudy Vallée singing though a megaphone.[1] On December 6th it displaced the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as the number one song in the US. Believe me, I’d much rather have “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” stuck on replay on the ol’ cerebral jukebox. “Winchester Cathedral” is inane, irritating, obviously catchy, or otherwise it wouldn’t be lying dormant in my unconscious for fifty-five years.

The tune got me thinking about one-hit wonders, those special songs that for whatever reason memed[2] their way into becoming mega hits, songs like “The Monster Mash,” “Snoopy and the Red Baron,” “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas.”[3] However, not all one-hit wonders are novelty songs. In fact, some of my favorite pop songs are one-hit wonders. Here be my top five, not necessarily in order of preference.

“96 Tears” (? and the Mysterians)

 “96 Tears” might be the grandaddy of all garage band hits, and some say (according to Wikipedia) that it played a role in the genesis of punk rock. I don’t know about that, but Springsteen has covered it, which speaks volumes.  It also came out in 1966, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

“Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” (The Swinging Medallions)

Although written by Don Smith and Cyril Vetter and first recorded by Dick Holler and the Holidays in 1963, it’s the South Carolina Beach Band The Swingin’ Medallions who made it a hit in ­– yes, you’ve guessed it – in 1966.  Damn, what an infectious, party hoot, and ladies and gentlemen, I actually heard Springsteen cover it live in 2008 at the North Charleston Coliseum. In fact, the Boss opened the show with it, hollering something like “How’ bout some Beach Music?”

“A Lighter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harem)

This moody, somewhat surreal, 1967 song provided an apt soundtrack for my doomed infatuation with fellow freshman Francine Light. I can see her now, standing across the cafeteria in her green tartan skirt and matching knee socks. O, woe was me!

Walk Away Renée” (The Left Banke)

When I began this little project, I had no idea that four of these favs were recorded with in a year of each other. This sad love song made it to number 5 on US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Despite its lush orchestration, flute, and harpsichord, I still sort dig it after all these years, not so much for its music but because of the memories it evokes.

“Wipe Out” (The Sufaris)

This is for my money the quintessential surf song, released in 1963 and covered by every garage band in my hometown of Summerville, SC, including The Marijuana Brass, an instrumental brass band modeled on Herb Albert. 

A couple of observations. Three of the five feature organs (a harpsichord doesn’t count) and all were recorded about the same time during my junior high days. Of course, there have been subsequent one-hit wonders I’ve enjoyed like “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”  Oh, yeah, and “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley beat the hell out of my top five, but I don’t care. 

Maybe hormonal imbalance played a role. Anyway, this exercise has effectively effaced “Winchester Cathedral” from its seemingly never-ending loop, and for that I’m very thankful.


[1] Chances are you’ve also never heard of  Rudy Vallée, Chances are, however, you’ve heard of Frank Sinatra, who covered it on his 1966 album That’s Life. Go figure.

[2] Verb, to meme, to catch on culturally, from the noun meme, an element of culture “selected” by the masses because of its contagious appeal. (Forgive me, Richard Hawkins).

[3] “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas begins with these immortal words:

    Your red scarf matches your eyes.

    You closed your cover before striking.

    Father has the shipfitter’s blues.

    Loving you has made me bananas.

The Late Nanci Griffith’s “Other Voices, Other Rooms”

The very best Christmas present I ever received from an in-law is Nanci Griffith’s masterpiece Other Voices, Other Rooms, a collection of covers from songwriters who influenced Griffith’s own music making. My sister-in-law Linda Birdsong gave it to me in 1994, saying she thought I’d enjoy it. Understatement of the century Clinton years.

I ended up purchasing ten or so more CDs to check out the work of some of the featured songwriters, which include Kate Wolf, Vince Bell, Townes Van Zandt, Frank Christian, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Ralph McTell, Tom Paxton, Woody Guthrie, Janis Ian, Gordon Lightfoot, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Malvina Reynolds and Harry Belafonte, just to name fourteen.

The magic begins with a cover of Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” an incredibly beautiful composition that embodies concretely the passage of time in both terrestrial and temporal images.

Here are the first three verses, but I encourage to go to YouTube (who won’t allow me to embed a link) and check out a live version:

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep
Countin’ troubles ‘stead of countin’ sheep
Where the years went I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

I’ve been siftin’ through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
And it was one that happened so long ago

Although they’re all excellent, the next song that blows me away is the third cut, Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley,” a duet Nanci performs with the great Arlo Guthrie. 

Other personnel featured on the album include Dylan himself, who plays harmonica on “Boots of Spanish Leather” and Guy Clark on the Woody Guthrie’s “Do-Re-Mi.” Also, Emmylou Harris and Iris Dement are sprinkled about, and the final cut “Wimoweh” features Odetta, the Indigo Girls, John Prine, James Hooker, Holly and Barry Tashian, John Gorka, Dave Mallet, Jim Rooney, and Nanci’s father Marlin Griffith.

Demonstrating just how much of life is fraught with loss and longing, the overall mood is melancholic with “From Clare to Here” (featuring Peter Cummin), Jerry Jeff’s “Morning Song for Sally,” Michael Burton’s “Night Rider’s Lament,” and “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” (featuring John Prine who wrote the song).

Of course, Nanci produced an admirable body of work herself, and she’s certainly going to be missed. From everything I’ve read about her, she was a lovely person, generous, intelligent, somewhat scholarly.

Sad, sad, sad.

Back Roads in the Age of the Internet

One of the benefits of retirement is that “dicing time” becomes less thinly sliced, its passage vaguer, elapsing as it did before that infernal invention the clock transliterated the overhead sun into 12:00 P.M.  Because I no longer have workday pressures that dictate how I spend my hours – no essays to grade, no lessons to plan, no report cards to crank out – I can take my own sweet time. 

For example, on road trips, rather than enduring a regimented slab of interstate stretching forth with its green mile markers clicking past tick-tock like, you can opt for the back roads, which, if you’re driving from Athens, Georgia, to Folly Beach, South Carolina, means you motor through mostly farmland – cornfields, peach orchards, but also tiny towns in various stages of civic decay.

Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can run across something truly remarkable, as my wife Caroline and I did outside of the tiny town of Wrens, Georgia.

What caught Caroline’s eye

***

We had dropped Brooks off at Camp Illahee[1] and spent a couple of nights outside of Athens with our friends Jim and Laura. Both they and our friend Ballard, whom we met tending bar at Five & Ten, suggested we take the backroads home. 

The route we chose took us through Thomson, Georgia, the birthplace of Blues legend Blind Willie McTell, whom I had discovered on a compilation LP called The Story of the Blues, a gift I received for my nineteenth birthday. So Blind Willie and I go way back.

I mentioned to Caroline that Blind Willie had been born in Thomson, so for a moment she abandoned her post as navigator and googled “Blind Willie.” She reported that there was a statue of Blind Willie in Statesboro but also that he was buried about eight or so miles outside of Thomson in Jones Grove Baptist Church Cemetery. So, as upright Protestants used to say – what the hay – we decided to take a side pilgrimage to pay our respects to Blind Willie. As Bob Dylan put it in one of his greatest compositions: “No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.”

***

I’ve visited Oscar Wilde’s and Jim Morrison’s graves at The Père Lachaise in Paris, both graves bedecked with flowers, notes, and in Wilde’s case, lipstick-like kisses imprinted on the stone obelisk that marks his resting place.

Not surprisingly, McTell’s grave is not as rich in gifts bestowed. There were no flowers, only a sprinkling of pocket change that wouldn’t cover the cost of a Coca Cola, a mini bottle, and a guitar pick. 

Rather than backtracking to return to our original route, we improvised, GPS-ing out a more southerly passage. As I was tooling along, Caroline let out a “Whoa, what was that!” 

“We ought to turn around,” she suggested. “We need to check it out.” Which we did.

Now you can check it out. Southern Gothic Deluxe.

After ten or so minutes taking in this remarkable outdoor installation, we continued to Allendale, the county seat of the poorest county in South Carolina. Not to put too fine a point on it, Allendale is the po-dunk equivalent of a Blade Runner hellscape, a stalled freight train of shuttered businesses lining the highway in succession, not to mention human habitations in various stages of collapse.

abandoned motel, image courtesy of ABC news
image courtesy of ABC News

At any rate, we arrived at the kennel to pick up KitKat, who, was beyond ecstatic to see us, and headed back to Folly, which, of course, offers its own offbeat pleasures.

I’ll leave you with a snippet of Dylans'”Blind Willie McTell

Seen them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghost of the slavery ship
I can hear them tribes moaning
Hear the undertakers bell
Nobody can sing the blues like blind Wille McTell


[1] What a gorgeous-sounding word, Cherokee for “heavenly world.”

Sam Cooke, Shreveport, and “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Sam Cooke’s plaintive, moving civil rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” was born in 1963 of discrimination after he and his wife were turned away from a segregated Holiday Inn at Shreveport, Louisiana. Incensed when the desk clerk lied and claimed no vacancies, Sam made a scene in the lobby, vociferously protesting, and while driving off, he and his entourage honked horns and lobbed insults like Molotovs as their taillights disappeared into the night. 

When Sam and company arrived at the Black hotel downtown, the police were waiting. However, the arrests created abysmal p.r. north of the Mason-Dixon line after the NY Times and UPI caught wind and publicized the discriminatory arrest of an affable fellow (at least he sounded affable on his records) who only wanted a place to sleep after twisting the night away. In 2019, Shreveport’s mayor apologized to the Cooke family and awarded Sam a key to the city – a mere fifty-six years after Cooke’s death at thirty-three. Nothing like a posthumous award to salve the wounds of a no-longer-sentient being.

According to Peter Guralnick’s biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” also spurred Sam to compose “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sam, the story goes, felt chagrined that a White fellow had written such a moving civil rights song. In fact, Sam admired “Blowin’ in the Wind” so much that he included it in his live performances not long after its release. 

Of course, the songs are much different. In “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan asks in third person a series of questions that ponder “how long” it’s going to take to end discrimination. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” on the other hand, is deeply personal, written in first person, and cites incidents of hurtful slights and expresses existential despair. However, despite the dirge-like tone of the song, the narrator feels certain that eventually “a change is gonna come” and justice will prevail, so the overall effect is hopeful rather than depressing.

Well, despite the election of Obama and the proliferation of people of color in national advertising, we’re not quite there yet, and it seems that many in the South have recently become emboldened to unfurl and wave their inner Stars-and-Bars, not to mention Republican-led state legislatures’ ongoing successful attempts to make voting more difficult for African Americans. 

In fact, to me, 2021 feels an awful lot like 1961, though at least now, Sam would have no trouble checking into a Holiday Inn – though he might turn up his nose at one – and Confederate statues are coming down as opposed to being erected. 


Oh, Those Old Southern Barbershops of Yore

Barbershop by Joan Estes

One of my favorite Tom Waits songs is “Barber Shop” from the 1977 album Foreign Affairs. It’s a jazzy, Beat poet-like monologue propelled by stand-up bass and drums. The song condenses a cascade of rhyming cliches into an archetypical visit to a Mid-20th Century barbershop.[1]

He sets the scene with one ass-kicking couplet:

Bay rum lucky tiger butch wax cracker jacks

Shoeshine jawbreaker magazine racks.

Then he treats us to typical idle barbershop chatter:

Morning Mr. Ferguson, what’s the good word with you?

[snip][2]

You lost a little round the middle and you’re looking real good.

[snip]

What’s the low-down Mr. Brown? I heard your boy’s leaving town.

[snip]

Throw me over the sports page, Cincinnati looking good.

[snip]


The hair’s getting longer, you know the skirts are getting shorter,
And don’t you know that you can get a cheaper haircut
If you wanna cross the border.

If your mama saw you smoking, well, she’d kick your ass.
Now you put it out you juvenile and put it out fast.

Well, if I had a million dollars what would I do?
I’d probably be a barber not a bum like you.

Still got your paper route now that’s just fine.
And you can pay me double because you gypped me last ti
me.

In Summerville, South Carolina, my hometown, going to the barbershop was not one of my favorite activities, right up there with visiting the dentist. In pre-adolescence, we patronized Homer’s, which conformed almost perfectly to Waits’s depiction. My father took me in those days because he thought women didn’t belong in barbershops – the way men didn’t belong in “beauty parlors” – because their presence would curtail free expression, whether it be an off-color joke by the males or juicy lady gossip by the females. 

At Homer’s you could get a shoeshine and a shave. I remember watching the barbers sharpen their razors on strops after they’d lathered the reclining recipients with soft-bristled brushes. To me, it looked scary. 

Mr. Homer, as we called him, employed another barber, Ben, a robust, heavy-set Filipino proficient but not fluent in English. Whenever someone came in with flipflops, he’d bellow, “How ‘bout a shoeshine?” and then laugh loudly at his own joke.[3]

At barber colleges, they must have a course in how to engage in small talk. Truth be known, I’ve never enjoyed Q and A small talk from service providers, whether they be barbers, dental hygienists, or the Porter-Gaud dad who peppered me with questions while performing my vasectomy. 

Also, sometimes small talk can seem like lying. 

“Don’t you think Gone with the Wind is the greatest movie of all time?”

“Uh, maybe.”

Anyway, in adolescence, I ditched Homer’s for a barbershop I think was called Bryant’s, which was owned and operated by African Americans, though think they only cut White people’s hair. It was located a couple of doors down from. Dr. Melfi’s Pharmacy, my go-to source for Mad Magazines

Bryant’s didn’t conform at all to Waits’s Homer’s-like barbershop. It had a New Orleans vibe with ornate shrines set up to honor JFK and MLK, Jr. with other photographs of less famous civil rights icons along with Hubert Horatio Humphry campaign buttons. It also seemed not as glaringly well-lit as Homer’s. On the other hand, I don’t think they offered comic books or magazines to flip through while you waited.

The barbers at Bryant’s weren’t all that big on small talk either, which suited me just fine. I think the last time I had my hair cut there was in August right before my junior year of high school. After that, I started cultivating a “freak flag” do and would get slight trims from girls I knew, just enough snipped so I wouldn’t get thrown out of school. Hair couldn’t touch your collar, and sideburns could only come down halfway down your ear. I had a friend named Gray who actually wore a short-haired wig to school.

The last old-fashioned barbershop I patronized was Gloria’s on Center Street at Folly Beach not long after we moved there in the very late Nineties. Like my ol’ man, I took my boys to the shop to get their hair cut. Gloria’s cat had full range of the joint, and although it didn’t seem all that hygienic, it was picturesque, and she only charged me five bucks because I’m bald. A proud lesbian, her small talk wasn’t all that small.

Now, of course, the building has been converted into a tourist bar. 

Ah, no; the years, the years; 

Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

On a brighter note, I’ll leave you with Waits’s song. Enjoy.


[1] In fact, when I taught the Beats in my American Lit class, I played the song for my students on a Porter-Gaud phonograph, a relic that nevertheless produced high quality sound, albeit not stereophonic.

[2] [snip] designates I’m omitting lines; though, I’ll confess, it’s an onomatopoetic play on the action of the song. 

[3] Interestingly enough, we children called him Ben, not Mr. Ben, the way we called our maids Lucille or Alice while they called us Mr. Rusty or Mr. David. 

Danger, Chaos Ahoy!

Pandora, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

After having read David Sedaris’s current New Yorker essay “Pearl,” I thought it might be fun for me – and to a lesser extent you, invisible reader – to ramble a bit, stagger from topic to topic, to sprinkle and sling rather than weave.

For example, how bout some cool band names for free?

Chutney Grouper and the Crybabies. (blues)

Betty Wont and the Willie Makeits (three-chord rock).

The Narcissistic Namby Pamby Wannabes (emo).

Cry Me a Pipeline (whatever).

Confetti Penises (glam rock).

Of course, having a cool name doesn’t ensure the band is gonna be worth a damn. I think “Blue Oyster Cult” is the coolest of names, but I’d much rather listen to The Animals.[1]

Truth be typed, luddite that I am, I’m not at all into streaming services. I want my music on an LP or CD with the songs arranged carefully with a thematic purpose, like the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet or Joni Mitchell’s Blue – in other words, tunes woven not slung.[2]

Pandora, for example, is aptly named; tune into the Tom Petty Station and you’re liable to be subjected to Neil Diamond crooning “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” Of course, Pandora’s a low rent platform; with Spotify, Amazon, and Apple, you can fashion your own playlists, but what retired beach-dwelling hedonistic retired English teacher has time for that?

The sad but not-at-all-shocking truth is that at the age of 68, for me, the current music these crazy mixed-up kids and thirty-something coke-sniffers and bling boasters are producing doesn’t, as Judy Birdsong[3] used to say, flip my switch. 

No sir, not indeed!

The indifferent news is that Caroline and I haven’t, despite the pandemic, cashed in our Atlanta 2020 Stones tickets.

So, we’ve got our fingers crossed.


[1] By the way, today – 13 May 2021 – is the great Eric Burdon’s 80th birthday. 

[2] Okay, Boomer.

[3] 1 June 1954 – 14 May 2017.