in memoriam: Toni Morrison

If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the the one to write it.

Something that is loved is never lost.

(I am still working on this one.)

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

Indiana/Kentucky, a friend and a show

Whew, the states are just flying by… from Illinois into Indiana, where I stayed a few days with a friend, and together we ran down into Kentucky to see Hamilton at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville. Whaaat!! I have been looking forward to this show for many months – like, from back before I moved into this van. As well as looking forward to seeing this friend again!

We had a good visit, catching up on all the things that we don’t find time to talk or chat online about in our regular lives. I got to meet some lovely children. And oh, the show… will be reviewed eventually at my book blog, and I’ll repost here when that happens. (It will be a while.) In a nutshell, it was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. It was well worth it to know the soundtrack in advance, and that soundtrack was enriched during the live performance. I am the luckiest woman.

Upon leaving dear Jacinda, I made a stop in Bloomington to see the track where the Little 500 bike race (of Breaking Away fame) takes place. (The quarry that figures in the movie has since been filled in.)

Little 500 track

And on down the road…

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” by James Wright

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home,
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

(from the Poetry Foundation.)

In honor of James Wright, I drove through Martins Ferry as I headed west from Pittsburgh.

busy busy in Pittsburgh

I have been having the nicest visit in Pittsburgh with my friend Karen! (She is much better at taking pictures than I am, too, so that’s a boon here.) We’ve been seeing a lot! First of all, I got into town specifically to go see Matthew Ferrence read from his book Appalachia North at City Books. I am so excited about this book – my review is forthcoming at pagesofjulia, and hopefully a fuller version elsewhere as well.

Matt’s reading was truly special. He picked short pieces from his book to read – out of order – and rolled straight from one into the next seamlessly; and indeed they read seamlessly, too, so that he patchworked a fresh, new essay from the book as if designed for it. I was very impressed; this seems like an art form in itself, choosing selections to read, in a way that so neatly showed what his book is about. I am a fan all over again. Don’t miss this read, y’all. I’ll try and repost a link here to the review when it goes live.

From here Karen took me on a driving tour of Pittsburgh in the dusk, including up to Mount Washington, where we rode the incline down to the edge of the Monongahela River and back up again. My fear of heights was present but not prohibitive. It was a gorgeous view of the city!

Although we’ve just begun our tour, I feel warm already toward this city with its beautiful, old architecture and humble, working-class story. Rivers and hills and old brick: what’s not to love?

be still my heart in Muscle Shoals (part 2)

After leaving FAME I was really losing my mind, you guys. I had to go park and have some quiet time before I could move on, to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, and Barry Beckett started their careers as studio musicians at FAME, but left in 1969 to open their own studio, where they served as both owners and studio musicians; this is where they became known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame as such). They were hailed as some of the finest studio musicians out there, with acts as big as the Rolling Stones coming into town to record in their studio. An anecdote from the documentary:

Paul Simon called Stax Records, said “Hey, man, I want those same Black players that played on ‘I’ll Take You There.'” They said, “That can happen, but these guys are mighty pale.”

(The joke here is that the four of them are white.)

I first learned about the Muscle Shoals Sound from a song.

Here, the tour was $15, and presented in a style much more suited to beginners: where Spencer at FAME is a sound engineer and apt to speak a bit over our non-professional heads (though happy to explicate where asked), the unnamed young man at Muscle Shoals Sound expected much less expertise. By this time, at my third stop of the day (and having some pre-study time put in, as a fan of these bands and having watched the documentary), Spencer’s style suited me a little better. But being in the place was, again, heady and nearly overwhelming. Here we talked a lot about the Swampers (nickname for the Rhythm Section, as immortalized in “Sweet Home Alabama” – go listen again and you’ll hear it), as well as Cher, the Stones, and Linda Ronstadt, among many others. I was amazed to hear we’d just missed David Hood, who’d been in recording just this week.

On my way into and out of town, I saw signs for places I’ve been hearing about in Truckers and Isbell songs for years: Russellville, Tuscumbia, Seven Mile Island; Lauderdale, Colbert, and Franklin counties. Wilson Dam, immortalized in a pair of Truckers songs by Cooley (“Uncle Frank“) and Isbell (“TVA“), respectively.

I’ve seen some birds, particularly around the dam: American white pelicans, great blue herons, Canada geese, a few Eastern bluebirds, and throughout the area, lots and lots of American robins.

I am now exhausted and reeling from this brush with greatness. How will I recover? I just feel so lucky that there’s such good music in the world, and that I get to know about it.

If I have not entirely killed my audience with these two gushy posts, let me leave you with a Jason Isbell Tiny Desk Concert that you will not regret.

You’re welcome.