Bar Tryst Late Winter

I’ve been on the serious side for the last few episodes, but this time it’s going to just be a late night, late winter jam called “Bar Tryst, Late Winter.” I wrote the words to this one—at least I think I did.
 
Do you know the story of how the song “Me and My Uncle” came to be? It’s a great cowboy song, recorded and sung by many people, including The Grateful Dead. Sometime in 1964 or so a songwriter named John Phillips who had toured to no great acclaim during the American Hootenanny pop-folk era in the early Sixties got a royalty check for writing this song. Seems Judy Collins has recorded it on a live album, and his first thought was to set the record straight. He got in touch with Judy Collins and told her that the writing credit must have been a mistake, that he didn’t know anything about any such song.

Collins then proceeded to tell the surprised Phillips that both of them had both been at an after-concert party in 1963 where a heady mix of intoxicants were present. During this night she had heard him compose this song on the spot. Luckily someone had run a tape recorder during the party, and from that tape she had learned the song.

Judy Collins

Such a good song-finder, she could find songs the songwriter didn’t know about!

 
Well, Judy Collins was not involved in my story, but it’s more or less the same. Sometime early this century I was looking through some old notebooks from the 1970s where I had written some things, and there on a page in my handwriting was this piece. Not only had I had no recollection of writing it, I had no recollection of any night quite like it describes. It’s possible I imagined the scene, using elements of things I had experienced,  It’s even possible that I didn’t write it, but why would I transcribe something of that length in the midst of other things I was writing?

Shortly after rediscovering it, I recorded this live take with the LYL Band and a drum machine. The guitarist I was playing with at that time was Andy Schultz who pulled out a lot of improvement in my playing as we wove lines between the two of us. Like the composition of the words used here, I can’t always tell when I listen to recordings from this time which of us played which guitar line back then.

To hear the LYL Band perform “Bar Tryst, Late Winter,” use the player gadget below.

Potential Graveyard

Our last episode featured words by Phillis Wheatley, whose story I first heard about in a graveyard.

I was taking a walking tour in Boston, and there was a lot for the guide to talk about as we strolled through the Granary Burying Ground near one end of Boston Common, the cemetery where many of the instigators of the American revolution are buried. That’s where I heard Phillis Wheatley’s story.

Granary Tombstone Boston

the Granary Burying Ground, Boston Massachusetts

 

There’s no tombstone for Phillis Wheatley there, and no record of where she was buried, though it could have been there. So, we don’t even know her graveyard, but we know her story.

Only a few days after wrapping up the work on the Phillis Wheatley episode, I happened to catch Viola Davis’ Oscar acceptance speech. Like David Harbour’s speech earlier this year, it compressed an artist’s calling into a few well-chosen words, and so, I set about creating today’s audio piece.

I trimmed and recast Davis’ words a little, turning it from her own pledge and testimony, to an artist’s pledge than we all can take:

There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered – that’s the graveyard.

People ask me, what kind of stories do you want to tell?

I say exhume those bodies, exhume those stories,

the stories of the people that dream big and never saw those dreams to fruition,

people who fell

in love

and lost.
Become an artist

They are the only profession that celebrates what it is to live a life.
Here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed, and exalted, the ordinary people.

There are only a few words here, but the opening sentence announces itself strongly, while going—to my take on it—in two directions. “There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered—and that’s the graveyard.” In that magnificent sentence, we may think of all the potential that’s totaled up short in every graveyard: potential lost due to life’s duration, lost due to injustice, lost to just bad luck, potential never reached for the many human failings. One of the most common of those human failings is to just not try, and when we fail to try, the graveyard is where that potential will end up.

This direction, where the sentence could go, is not where Davis takes us however. She reminds us: there, in those graveyard lives is that precious struggle, the part-ways reach, all the somedays that someday may see victories. We should “exhume those stories,” she says.

And then Davis’ makes a daring statement. Art “is the only profession that celebrates what it is to live a life.”

Can that be so? Certainly, historians and social scientists collect and analyze information about lives too—but perhaps they must step beyond that role to light the footlights that art does. Art is the transference of the emotions and the perceiving inner being between people.  Only at that level of communication can the celebration of what it means to live a life be reached. That’s what we do when we create art, or when we consume it actively.

Davis repeats her specific charge to artists, as she praises the creative acts of August Wilson, the writer and playwright: art’s radical empathy empowers and obligates artists to tell other people’s stories.

Writers listen to her here, listen to her evoke August Wilson: even your story is not your story. It’s your great-grandparent’s story, perhaps it will be your great-grandchild’s story. The graveyard, the grocery store and the stars are full of stories. Allow them to ask you to tell them.

 

Viola Davis delivered her words much better than I could, but today’s Parlando Project piece “Potential/Graveyards” adds the music I composed and played to go with my recasting of them., To hear this short piece, use the player below.