Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Power Outage

Yesterday evening, a wrathful gale beat a path through Knoxville, tearing up ancient and enormous trees in old neighborhoods like mine. I am always at odds with myself when it comes to these things. Storms gives me pause for my family's safety and the inconvenience of replacing things like windows and shingles, but the near-unbridled power of all that wind and water, heralded by the tympanic cannon-blasts of thunder, always thrills my spirit. It is difficult to stem the desire to go and stand in the writhing tempest (foolish as that may be).

The storm had blown through quickly, dissembling to reveal the golden shimmer of evening sunlight glimmering off the last remnants of rain and cloud. Steam rose from the street for hours afterward. People wandered through the neighborhood, curiously assessing the damage. I walked through the lampless dark after nightfall, exhaling gratefully at the conspicuous number of near-misses - weighty turrets of oak falling across power lines, streets, mailboxes, but only a few houses. It could have been much worse.

Beneath the star-drawn sky, unhindered by the nervous hum of electric light, people had lit candles and lanterns. Houses on the wet night-blue street had no faceless flicker of TV casting the pallid light of a satellite trance from every window. Incandescent glows could be seen in bedrooms, living rooms, and on porches. Neighbors sat together in their driveways or walked about, checking on each other. Certainly we are all guilty of a degree of voyeurism, but there was also a peace. Like waking from a muddled dream and seeing the tangible world before you, people had little entertainment save the company of each other.

As I posted previously, I spent the next to the last week of Lent chasing the dream of shared music and stories through the Midwest with a visionary cadre of musicians. Bill Wolf, Taylor Brown, Emilee Cook, Terry and Helene Mahnken, Carl Smith, Chris Dorsten, and I blew through three states and five stops, enjoying the company of some wonderful people. The last two dates were in Knoxville, with the tour finishing at St. John's Cathedral downtown. Greg Adkins, who played along for the last two shows - not to mention on the record - and who is one of the most passionate artist advocates I know (being a gifted songster himself), put together a quick video from setup and soundcheck. Enjoy. Oh, and Jill Andrews sings. Like I said, Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Land that Claims Me

Tomorrow is departure day for my first tour. Of course, I ought to be in bed, but I feel the need to stay awake and procrastinate, like a mud-hungry boy on the eve of his first camping trip (with real fire). In the preparation though, unexpected beauty has hit me like a long-forgotten embrace.

I've been reading a lot of women lately: Kathleen Norris, Madeleine L'Engle, Anne Lamott. Add to that a handful of men whose writing is not particularly masculine. I don't say this is a bad thing. Nor do I say that I can pinpoint exactly what it is in writing that evokes masculinity or womanliness. I am beginning to sense that the world behind "...in His own Image...male and female created He them," is wider and more mysterious than we often credit. Chesterton said that it might take a person a hundred readings for his eyes to be opened to the meaning of what he was reading. Perhaps I am on my ninety-ninth.

I have long been infatuated with the idea of going to Scotland. That is to say, permanently. It represents to me both an adventure and a homecoming to the peaty soil that claims the bones of my ancestors. Its forlorn beauty and miles of windswept moor, its wise and mighty shoulders of metamorphic rock bound in grass and furze, its lonely bird-haunted coast, they all speak to the poet in me like a liturgy. Dig deep, wrestle in the wilderness, the Spirit is like a wind coming and going. I can't deny the restlessness in me that is always looking outward, always feeling my heart sigh with the sound of every airplane, pregnant with possibility. I have friends over the Atlantic, true, and I always long to see them and kiss their faces and laugh at their jokes, but I'm not even sure if it's them I'm truly after. There are many longings, woven into a humanly inseparable tapestry of desire to pack up my girls and head across the sea.

Then tonight, I stood out on the back porch pinning laundry on the lines. Laundry - there's that womanly sensibility coming out. Kathleen Norris calls it a meditative activity. I cannot do it quickly, it makes me slow down. In slowing, feeling the vernal cold on my skin, hearing the dog tags jingle in the dark yard and the Paul Simon train horn in the distance, I felt an unearthly and wonderful peace with this place. I don't know if it has begun to exert some claim over me, to subject me to itself. I have spinach, broccoli, thyme, and lavender in the chilly Spring ground, casting hopeful shadows of family meals to come. I mow the yard and watch the blackberries leaf into wily green scimitars of vine here at Sinclair's Eve, and it feels as though this place and the people near me have some say in my heart. The individual in me longs to refuse, longs to maintain that staunch loneliness that marks me as this thing or that thing.

I feel the start of it,
A knee-jerk Reaction
in the bowel of the Well
in the middle of the Island
I used to be.

I am inescapably part of this community. A product of it? I do not know. Yes? No? After some fashion, probably. It would be arrogant to say that I live anywhere and yet eschew the constant influence of my friends, my neighbors, my enemies, be these people or principalities or the Rivers that clap their Hands. I am starting to be at peace with the idea. And now, of course, I pack my bags to drift through the Midwest for a few days. Absence, and the heart.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Loving Blind

Many thanks to everyone who tuned in to 96.3 to hear us on Remedy After Dark on Thursday. Burt, Patricia, and I piled into the storied old studio whence J. Bazzel Mull broadcast southern gospel for more years than anyone likes to count. I loitered in the front office of the building, reading the plaques on the wall, and discovered that Reverend Mull had been blind from the age of 11 months. He is dead now, but this bit of trivia made me wish I could have a conversation with him. He spent most of his life as a radio tycoon of sorts and a music promoter. He had a long-standing relationship with The Chuck Wagon Gang - whom Greg Adkins and I played opposite to a humorously sparse crowd at the Tennessee Valley Fair. We can't think of it nowadays without laughing. I had only vaguely heard of The Chuck Wagon Gang before, but the name unfailingly brought to mind a bubbling vat of beans, and that's never dull.

Still I was amazed at the man's blindness, mostly because of his marriage. He had never seen his wife's face, looked into her eyes, yet their marriage was undoubtedly dedicated according to the tales. It reminded me of the Lover in the Song of Solomon. The Beloved sees his face, but we never do. She describes him, wonderfully and eloquently, but description of a face, no matter how good, always falls short of seeing the person with your own eyes. Yet we are commanded to fall in love with a groom whose face we've never seen. Like Elijah, we see the back of him everywhere if we're paying attention. Walking through the majesty of the world he created, smelling the piquant cleanliness and the cool rush before a summer rain, running our hands across the rustling crowns of broom sedge, feeling the sun and the snow, it's like seeing the back of someone you know in a crowd. You rush to catch up with him, but he keeps walking, almost as if he knew you were there. Doggedly you call out his name, and he waits at a corner until you get close before taking off again. He seems to want you to follow him. You still haven't seen his face. How does a blind man fall in love? Is it the best way? I don't know, but we're all hoping for it in some way or another.

In the chasing of that groom, Bill Wolf, a great, humble, and dedicated songwriter - who I'm privileged to call my friend - put together a song cycle called Easter Stories & Songs. A gaggle of folks that graciously includes myself is leaving town in a few days to drive under the wide skies of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio to share the music. If you're in the area, come by, because you're an invaluable part of the conversation that is Us. The dates can be found to your right, dear reader. Also, they are on Bill's website. If you call Knoxville home, or at least the land where you wander, we'll be playing both West Towne Christian Church (April 20th) and St. John's Cathedral (April 22nd). This music is joyful, like silver out of the crucible, and I hope we get to spend the evening sharing it with you.