My Second Second Line

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Olympia Jazz Band by Steve Spencer

If you’re lucky enough to be in New Orleans on a Sunday, google WWOZ and find out where the second line parade is going down.

Here’s a link for a brief history of the tradition, but essentially second lines arose in the 19th Century as African American citizens formed fraternal societies to collectively provide burial insurance and to sponsor jazz funerals for members who had cake-walked to the Other Side.

Originally, the first line consisted of family members and close friends of the deceased, the hearse and the band, while the second line was made up by mourners (or anyone else) who wanted to follow.  Nowadays, second lines aren’t necessarily associated with funerals; they’re hosted by neighborhood organizations for the joy of it. As Ian McNulty puts it in the linked article above, “Second lining can also refer to the type of dancing that usually goes on at these parades – a wild, strutting dance step to carry participants forward in pace with the brass band – so one can go to a second line, be in a second line and do the second line all at once.”

We weren’t in New Orleans for a funeral but for a wedding (which I officiated in my capacity as the Rockin’ Reverend Rusty).  So the day after, the father of the groom, Jake-the-Snake and daughter Anna; Jake’s sister Beth and son Ben;  Keefus Sanders, the best man at Jake’s own wedding; the Beasleys; and Entourage Moore featuring Harrison, Taryn, Ned, Caroline, Brooks, and I-and-I met up at the corner of 2433 Dryades where the parade picked up King Roller and Dukes at an establishment called Sportsman Corner.*

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Here’s a video peek at the festivities:

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR AND THANKS FOR READING!

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*Do Lawd, retired English teacher, that’s a long awkward compound subject you got going there.

Christmas in New Orleans

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This Christmas my immediate family gathered in New Orleans for the holidays to celebrate the wedding of my friend Jake-the-Snake Williams’ son Mac, whom I’ve known since utero.  Ned came all the way from Nuremberg, Harrison and Taryn from NYC, and, of course, Brooks, Caroline and I-and-I from Folly Beach, SC.

We rented a VRBO in Treme, two houses down from the Back Street Museum, which houses Mardi Gras Indian costumes and Second Line Parade outfits.

Renting a VRBO in Treme would be massively frowned upon by Davis McAlary, a character on the HBO series Treme, because it violates Davis’s paradoxically entitled notion that he should be the only white person allowed to infiltrate Treme because of his profound love for New Orleans’ African-American culture.

That’s our excuse, too.

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I-and-I on the porch of the Back Street Museum

Here are some pix from our excursion to Walgreens to process photos and cop some razor blades. While Caroline and Brooks waited for photo processing inside the pharmacy, I wandered outside to check out the environs.

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The black citizens of Treme could not have been more welcoming, Mr. Francis, the proprietor of the Back Street Museum, called a friend to find out where Sunday’s Second Line parade would originate so we could catch it. Rodney, the manager of the Lil People Bar just around the corner from our place, gifted us some toilet paper and invited us to a catfish fry Sunday to watch the Saints game.

What to do?  Check out the Second Line?  Eat catfish at the Lil People?

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The great James Booker

I ain’t know.

Ch-Ch-Changes

Tomas Honz A Near Future

Tomas Honz, A Near Future

In my boyhood – we’re talking the Fifties and Sixties – I loved movies from the 1930’s, the Marx Brothers, WC Fields, and Laurel and Hardy especially.  Jean Harlow in her shimmering white gown seemed from my limited perspective almost as far removed as the Civil War.  Nick and Nora Charles epitomized a world glamour forever lost; in short, for ten-year-old I-and-I, the Thirties was a Golden Age (despite its soup lines and empty Christmas stockings).

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Myrna Loy and William Powell in Their Roles as Nora and Nick Charles

Of course, nowadays for me, thirty years is merely half a lifetime ago, the blink of the old proverbial eye, seeming like yesterday, as they say.

Yet it was a time before email, before downloading music and movies, before smart phones, before same sex marriage, and certainly 1984 – that sinister Orwellian year – must seem as distant to a ten-year-old today as 1932 did to me in ’62 – the year Dylan released his debut album, Marilyn Monroe was found dead, and a U2 plane (not the Irish band) espied missile sites going up in Cuba.

[cue] “[Our] old road is rapidly aging

Of course, as Heraclitus pointed out many moons ago (29,772 or so to put an approximate number on it), change is the one constant of the universe.  Nowadays, though, at least as far as Western culture goes, change has accelerated at warp speed: cell phones seemingly morph instantly in our hands as we switch from punching buttons to swiping screens.  The landfills are probably overflowing with those whatcha-used-to-call-ems – oh yeah, floppy discs.  What’s amazing is how fluidly we have waltzed from teletypes in the early ‘80‘s to Skype in the 20-teens.

Less smooth, however, has been the transition from the cultural conventions of the 1950’s to the Brave New world of this Millennial decade.

Who looks more wholesome, Robertsons or Stones?

These are not comfortable days for fundamentalists with genetics suggesting that homosexuality is not a Satanic perversion but a orientation encoded in the double helixes bequeathed to us by the random collision of sperm and ovum.  We have a not-easily- reconciled Biblical schism between the love and compassion of Jesus’s preaching and Paul’s seemingly more traditional stances on women and homosexuals.  These beliefs end up being personal, and it is clear that expressing one’s beliefs publicly – no matter which side you fall on – is fraught with danger.

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Bob Dylan “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”  1965

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Hannah Höch: Totalitarian

Which brings me to a subject near and dear to my cerebral cortex – language.  Paradoxically, we have now a coarsening of language* while simultaneously political correctness forbids our use of once scientifically sanctioned words like retarded.**


*E.g, our stuff  (i.e. personal belongings like books and recordings) has been downgraded to shit as the patois of the hood via hiphop is aped by the middle class.

**A friend mentioned last week that she had been verbally excoriated for using “retarded” in the sense of “backwards looking.”  From infoplease: The treatment of mentally retarded people has always reflected the changes in society. They have been officially referred to as idiots and as the feebleminded. The introduction of the IQ test was followed by a classification system that used such terms as moron (IQ of 51–70), imbecile (26–50), and idiot (0–25); later these terms were softened and classifications redefined somewhat to mild (IQ of 55–70), moderate (40–54), severe (25–39), and profound (0–24) retardation. The term mentally retarded itself, although still commonly used, has been replaced in some settings by the term developmentally disabled.

I myself have  recently gotten in a bit of trouble for using figurative language (an instance of anatomical synecdoche, if you must know) which underscored for me the absurdity of mistaking a word for the act or condition it describes.***

*** As I once told my mother, “I’ll bring in a jar of piss and a jar of urine, and if you can distinguish which is which, I’ll quit using the word “piss.”


Come to think of it, perhaps shit is a more appropriate word than stuff for the manufactured, almost instantly obsolete artifacts we now call our own (as opposed to grandfather’s golden pocket watch or the Swiss army knife we used to carry).

Whatever the case, the tension between accepted vulgarities like shit and out-of-vogue elocutions like homo suggests cultural confusion amid all of the dizzying change we’re exposed to, so you better watch those tweets, Steve Martin and your mouth Rusty Moore.

All that I ask is that the Politically Correct Police and the Bible Thumpers keep their sanitized hands off my vocabulary.

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2019 Yearly Review

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Although a bit early, I’m posting my annual recap of my favorite posts of the year because Monday we’re headed to NOLA where the Right Rocking Reverend Rusty will officiate his very first wedding as Jacob McLeod Williams and Darsey Virginia Walker enter the holy state of matrimony. This event will take place on 28 December a couple of hours after LSU takes the field against Oklahoma, so the Right Reverend has crafted a service that screams brevity is the soul celebration.

Anyway, let’s get this here celebration started.

January

charlie2019’s first month yielded only five posts, one an excerpt from a novel Caroline’s editing for me in hopes of eventual publication. Also there’s a piece mocking South Carolina’s attorney general for calling marijuana “the most dangerous drug” and a meditation on angels,” which is probably the most well written.  However, I’m going to feature my “Ode to Bartenders,” those kind souls who ply us with spirits and sometimes offer sage advice.

February 

I was more productive in February, which also features a novel excerpt that I discovered mouldering in a drawer.  There’s also a poem honoring my late friend Larry “Buck” Howard, and a couple of others of note, but I’m going to provide links to only two, my dyspeptic (though eloquent) disparagement of Super Bowls and a link to an interview with my brother, the musician Fleming Moore,  in which he performs a song inspired by my son Ned.

March 

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photoshopped by Jake McDonald

Again, not much to choose from here in sheer numbers. I wrote about mindfulness, euphemisms, a Danielle Howle concert, and teaching poetry. Also, I wrote about sharing Porter-Gaud’s Visiting Writer honor with my man Bill Slayton, which you can read here.

April 

As lilacs bred out of the dead soil, mixing memory with desire, I wrote about Sunday morning blues and the phenomenon of curiosity.  Alfred “Do Lawd” Tennyson makes an appearance as does dying in nursing homes. On the bright side, Caroline and I did head up to Wilmington for the battle of the DJs, topped off with an Ice Cube concert.

May  

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In May I taught my last class, mused on poetry, and wrote this tribute to my late wife Judy Birdsong who died on Mother’s Day in 2017.

June 

Hey, retirement resulted in a much more productive month of blogging, but in June one of my heroes died, the great Mac Rebennack. AKA Dr. John, whom I lauded in two separate posts.  Here is the more ambitious of the two,a lexicon of Dr. John locutions. 

July  

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From left to right, Caroline, I-and-I, Cheryl, Chris, Kathy (photo credit Joe Brown)

I’m providing links for two posts, the first a narrative of epic proportions, our trip to see the greatest rock-n-roll band in history and a poem that I’m proud of, “Ode on a Tattooed Torso.”

Tattooed Torso

August

August was hopping.  Caroline and I saw Steve Earle in Florence, SC, both on the sidewalk and in concert.  I wrote about the all but forgotten psychedelic band Blue Cheer and the spectacular TV series Deadwood, reviewed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and channeled Joseph Campbell, which, I think is the most noteworthy of the posts.

September 

September got off to a shitty start with the Gamecocks losing to North Carolina.  Once again, music seems to be an obsession.  Here’s a post about country music  and one on Miles Davis. 

October 

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Lots of retreads here from the old blog.  I did, however, launch my art career , and Caroline and I hosted our first house concert. 

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 November 

Saw a bad movie, wrote a bad poem, mocked an asshole YA author.

December

Only three, four counting this one, maybe “The Towering Dead” is the best, but I do like the account of the Phish concert as well.

So, hey, if you’re a repeat customer, thanks so much for reading this blog.  I sincerely appreciate it, and stay tuned to find out how Mac and Darsey’s wedding turned out.

Dr. Hoodoo Dr. John Wesley

 

 

 

 

Swapping Stories, Southern-Style

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I actually witnessed this implosion in November of 1971.  Stayed up all night to see it right before dawn with my personal bodyguard Haboo Garbowski, a bear of a mannishboy.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hanging out with old college friends who attended the University of South Carolina with me in the early to mid-70s, and, of course, we told stories because that’s what old Southern boomers do.[1]  We relive the past because, as the song says, “old times [here] are not forgotten.”[2]

The majority of these tales are comedic, thematically connected. For example, the time when ol’ so-and-so was wandering around someone’s house in the wee hours drunk as a skunk wearing only an oxford dress shirt as he stumbled around munching on a chicken drumstick, and another, even more embarrassing incident, when an extremely inebriated newlywed became disoriented and crawled naked in bed with his mother-in-law. Here, the written word is no substitute for the oral transmission, the whoops and hollers, the rhythm of the vernacular.

That story led to one about a young woman who house sat for B and D.  This woman, a free spirit, slept in the nude. One morning, she stepped out onto the deck in her naked majesty and closed the sliding doors.  CLICK.  She tried to reopen the door, but it wouldn’t budge. All the other doors were locked as well.

Fortunately, she had her phone in her hand, which she had picked up out of habit, a rather absurd situation, to be outside naked except for a cell phone, which brings to mind this lovely ditty from Robert Graves.[3]

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman’s trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometimes nude!

Well, by Graves’ definition, she was naked, not nude, as naked as a jaybird, as my grandmother would say, who herself has relocated to “the briary pastures of the dead,” but that’s another story.

Obviously distressed, the young woman called one of the owners, D, and asked her if she should ask people in the neighboring house for help, but D said, “We live at the end of a dirt road.  We don’t have neighbors. I’ve hardly ever talked to those people.”

The good news, though — and how lucky is this – the house was equipped with a trap door.  All she had to do was fetch the ladder, find the trap door, push it open, and enter from below, which, bless her heart, she did successfully.

This narrative led to other getting locked out of the house stories, like poor ol’ Sherman T who was told he could crash at that very house, but found it locked. His door knocking coming to naught, he decided to crash on a lounge chair next to the pool.

“So I wrapped myself in towels,” he said.  “They were dog towels. I spent the night wrapped up in dog towels under the moon.”

Of course, I have a couple of getting out of the house stories (here’s one), but the one I was going to tell involved in-laws, a rental house in St. Simons, and the Swimming Pool Q’s.

“The Swimming Pool Q’s,” D and B shouted.  “They’re good friends of ours!”

So instead of hearing my lame story we talked about the Pool Q’s, which had nothing to do with my favorite story of the evening , the Great Mount Pleasant Mushroom Disaster, but I’ll have to tell you that one in private the next time I see you.

I’ll leave you with this peek of the Pool Q’s until the folks at YouTube remove it because of copyright concerns.


[1] Pardon the redundancy.

[2] Despite the copious amounts of intoxicants involved in many of these stories.

[3] Graves doesn’t distinguish “nekkid,” unlike Lewis Grizzard, who famously  explained, “There’s a big difference between the words, ‘naked’ and ‘nekkid.’ ‘Naked’ means you don’t have any clothes on. ‘Nekkid’ means you don’t have any clothes on … and you’re up to something.”

 

The Towering Dead

me and the reaper seranade

Nor for the towering dead/ With their nightingales and psalms

Dylan Thomas, “In My Craft or Sullen Art”

Hamlet describes death as “the undiscovered country from whose bourne/ No traveler returns,” phrases that betoken death’s mystery, a subject so profound that you can almost get away with slipping in a moth-eaten word like “betoken.”

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Don’t say “cheese”

On the other hand, Wallace Stevens designates Death as the mother of beauty.

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Woody Allen pigeonholes it as one of the two things that come only once in a lifetime.*

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*The other is sex

***

My first 3-D encounter with a human’s death happened when I was around twelve or so on a rare Sunday when we’d all gone to church together, even Daddy.  In those days TV consisted of a couple of channels,  so we would occasionally drive for amusement, motoring around and through Summerville, circumnavigating the past –  riding past clapboard houses where we used to live, past our former maid’s dilapidated cottage, past the crossroads where my grandfather’s gas station had stood before it burned down.

On this particular summer’s day, we encountered a cluster of hysterical people on the sidewalk right across the street from Dorchester County Hospital.  The windows of our un-air-conditioned Ford Falcon were down, and as we rolled past, I witnessed a Mahalia-Jackson-sized woman throwing her hands back in the air while screaming over and over, “My Mama left me, My Mama left me!”

As our car crawled on, I caught sight of the outline of the body, already covered, the screams receding as Daddy sped up and drove straight home.

Later that day, we traveled to Lake Moultrie with our neighbors, another rarity, and I saw Mrs. Delasanti’s pubic hair peeking out of her bikini bottoms.

A first for me.  Forbidden.  Thrilling.

So, on that Sunday, I sort of got a peek at both sides of the coin, the tomb and womb, and, unfortunately, the tomb won out.  Death had ruined my day.

“My Mama’s left me, My Mama’s left me!” rang out as I lay me down to sleep that night.

Horace Walpole has described life on this planet about as pithily as anybody: “This world is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel.”

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Mahalia Jackson

***

Over the years, I have become much more of a thinker than a feeler.  I’d like to believe that education, fairly wide reading/traveling, my dabbling in Buddhism, and maturity have brought about my detachment (rather than a callousness acquired from the onslaught of horrific images I’ve been bombarded with in over a half-century of a media-saturated life:  JFK’s shattering skull, Vietnamese monks immolating themselves, starving African toddlers with bloated bellies, Donald J Trump raising his hand to take the oath of office).

Of course, since that first encounter with death, I have witnessed others, loved ones, shuffling off their mortal coils. As I held my mother-in-law’s hand as she was in the thrall of dying, she looked up at the ceiling, gazing intently at whatever she saw up there, and said, squeezing my hand, “Rusty, this is overwhelming.”

My beloved Judy had a harder time, though mummified by morphine, her breathing labored,  yet right before the end, she quieted down, and I recited to her over and over “may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” and I’m also almost positive she was at least dimly aware of my presence and words because she sort of smiled for awhile before she became still.

***

I have an oncologist friend who once told me that out there (wherever that is) lurks enormous amounts of anonymous funding for a dedicated (if not fanatical) group of scientists/physicians who believe that they can conquer aging and death-by-disease, a prospect that frankly gives me the heebie-jeebies.  In that world, all deaths would be accidental, the afterlife a occupancy-challenged condo.  I imagine suicide rates would skyrocket. How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable would seem the never-ending daily routines in that Malthusian nightmare of a world!

I told my friend, “They don’t know the story of the Sibyl.”

“No they don’t,” he concurred.

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Translation: “I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her, Sibyl, what do you want? she replied I want to die.”

***

No, I believe that Wallace Stevens got it right:  Death is the mother of beauty.

Who would trade his or her short-lived ability to discern beauty for the undifferentiated undying existence of amoeba and paramecia, or prefer the perfect two-dimensional monotony of prelapsarian Eden to the depth and complexity of postlapsarian Babylon with its gardens full of fading flowers and kiss-stealing star-crossed lovers?

Biologically speaking, sex is what creates diversity, and its cost is death, the cessation of being, or, as Philip Larkin put it in “Aubade”:

        [. . . ] no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anesthetic from which none come round.

Death for sex, not a bad trade off by my reckoning.

Unlike Larkin, death holds no special dread for me.  Although I don’t believe in an afterlife, the idea of having my short-leased indestructible matter recycled into another form appeals to me.  I think a burial at sea sounds exquisite – a quick re-entry into the animal world via ingestion.

In this interim between womb and tomb – let us be thankful to have ended up here and now and agree with Dylan Thomas that wise men at their end know dark is right.

Though, rather than raving as Dylan Thomas suggests, I’d like to think of myself in those final instants as surrendering to the fitting inevitability of it all.  To try to enjoy the fleeing images of my consciousness as they’re jettisoned into nothingness.

After all, form is emptiness and emptiness form.

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