Currently viewing the tag: "Tommy Jarrell"

600full-joe-strummer6) Townes Van Zandt, Be Here to Love Me

Before I watched this thing, I knew “Pancho and Lefty” and Justin Townes Earle’s namesake, and that was about it. But this sad, sad, documentary that is a country song in itself went so well with my last Nashville adventure. S.T. and I perched in R.B.’s disaster of a music nerd bachelor apartment and sunk into the life of Townes.

The most memorable part, besides the quiet, woeful songs? Van Zandt’s son talking about how he learned his dad was dead. Switching across the stations one night, the son heard one of his dad’s song, which was rare. Then he heard another one and thought, oh, a two-fer, great. A third song followed and he knew something awful had happened.

Before S.T. and I watched this, and before we saw Old Crow Medicine Show that night for a WSM radio show, we had paid tribute to Townes by having a beer at The Gold Rush. There is a picture of the man himself above one of the bars. When S.T. and I went to take a photo, the middle-afged bartender began telling us perfect, tragic stories about how shit-faced Townes used to stagger home from the place. Sometimes he would leave his lyrics-covered napkins behind, and the bartenders would keep them for him. By telling us these raw, real tales of sorrow, the bartender managed to simultaneously puncture the unserious fun time impression of the country-drunk and enhance it one hundred-fold. All in all, it was a very Nashville moment.

Favorite Townes Van Zandt song (besides the one I put in Friday Afternoon links below):

Oh, and here’s the whole documentary on Youtube!

5) Tommy Jarrell, Sprout Wings and Fly

A group of us has rented a little house in Nashville — by us, I mean the collection of oddballs I met from internet Old Crow Medicine Show fandom, all of whom are at least 15 years older than I am — to see the group at the Ryman for the switch from 2010 to 2011. There was moonshine, black-eyed peas, collard greens, Prince’s Hot Chicken, and S.T. and J.K. busking their hearts out on the corners and side-streets off of Broadway. And when S.T. and J.K. practice their fiddle and guitar, it gets serious — even religious. During their practice at our (for the moment) little house, the DVD of Les Blank’s Sprout Wings and Fly was brought out. “Tommy” they called Jarrell. In their reverence, he needs no other name. I didn’t display my ignorance, but watched and tried to learn the appropriate lessons and display my old time piety.

Jarrell was an old school Appalachian fiddler, absolutely from another universe, even while Blank filmed him at the end of his life in the 1980s. It’s just one of those perfect folk moments in amber that makes one wish to be named Lomax. S.T. told me later that the story goes that Jarrell’s musician father learned “Poor Ellen Smith” from Peter Degraf himself as he sat in jail for the poor woman’s murder. That story is so America, that I hope never to confirm whether it is true or not.

Favorite Tommy Jarrell song:

Here’s the trailer for the documentary:

4) The Clash, Westway to the World

I don’t remember the first time I watched Westway to the World, but my 15th and 16th years saw the DVD nearly worn to splinters. It’s just the Clash talking, with archival footage. Headon is withered and still on heroin, Jones is all teeth and a bit of smarm, Simonon is still handsome and cheeky, and Strummer seems sweet, and sad, and regretful about his key part in fucking up the completely magical foursome had had going.

Favorite Clash song:

And the documentary:

3) Joe StrummerLet’s Rock Again!

Oh,  Let’s Rock Again! I waited breathlessly to watch, sobbed my eyes out when Strummer is passing out flyers to his own gig, or sitting on the sidewalk chatting with teens, or being hugged by hysterically joyful Japanese fans, and then I could never watch it again. The Clash I missed by miles, but if congenital heart defects and my lack of prodigious coolness hadn’t gotten in the way, I could have seen the Mescaleros, dammit. I missed it. I fucked up. I was late. But the whole documentary just makes you love Strummer’s humanity and his earnest, human optimism. (Which, knowing how he turned out, makes asshole, must be a punker, 1976 Strummer even more adorable.)

Favorite Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros song:

And the clip where Joe passes out flyers to his own show — contrived or not, I want to hug him real bad. Strummer was the most huggable of all the old punk rockers.

2) Simon and Garfunkel, Songs of America and The Concert in Central Park

The latter, a 1981 concert that made 12-year-old me infuriated that I had even missed that pale imitation of a folk reunion by six years of life — making the ’60s I yearned to visit seem farther away still. The former, though officially packaged with a shiny new version of Bridge Over Troubled Water a few years back, came to my eager hands as a grainy VHS from an internet friend (I “met” her in an MSN Paul Simon fans group. She also sent me a burned CD of a bootleg of the once-rare The Paul Simon Songbook). That tape was painfully wonderful — finally a glimpse of the duo at their peak, the thing I missed. The thing itself is pretty low-key, sometimes it lags, but there are some good concert scenes, and a particularly wonderful Simon and Garfunkel warming up bit.

Favorite Simon and Garfunkel song:

And Songs of America! (You God damned kids have no idea what it was like pre-Youtube. The dial-up days were dark indeed.)

And the Central Park one as well!

(I finally saw Simon and Garfunkel in 2004, though for most of my childhood I assumed it was impossible. I heard “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “Suspect Device” that year. Seventeen was a good musical year.)

1) Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense

This, for the distinctive memory of my father rushing home from work one day, piece of mail in hand, and how he popped in his brand new VHS of the flawless Talking Heads doing their thing. He and mom were actually there for one of the nights the concert was made from. Though they were a very New York City band, my parents in LA in 1984 watching David Byrne in his great big suit, dancing with a lamp, makes them seem very California, and very familiar in a way — as if they helped raise me. And the concert is as wonderful as everyone says — its slow build from David Byrne playing “Psycho Killer” all alone to the full, wild stage and incomprehensible energy. It’s perfect, and it’s strange, and it’s my parents being cool and before my time.

Favorite Talking Heads song:

And —

— David Byrne and that lamp.

Last week, I was so ready to write a thoughtful, invariably inside libertarian baseball response to Jeffrey Tucker’s piece in the The Freeman. Or I was going to write about horrible police brutality for the various outlets who enjoy that sort of thing. But then my Montana-dwelling aunt called, and we discussed the imminent spring, and the greatness of the Coen Brothers — with me evangelizing about Ralph Stanley, and both of us agreeing that the Greenwich Village-style of folk was not the platonic ideal, being a little too earnest English balladish, and not high and lonesome enough.

And then of course politics faded from my soul, as it does. I subscribe to the Tucker and the Radley Balko school of politics (and, really, most of the Reason writers agree) which says that it is a vile thing, and the victory of libertarianism would mean an ability to ignore politics without feeling as if you were betraying your imprisoned and oppressed fellow man. I just wish I knew how to channel a career into dissecting how Ralph Stanley sounds, as opposed to how endlessly sick the prison state makes me.

I had a lovely birthday on the 8th. I had lovely people come to visit me and gather around. But before I went to my own party, my mom and I went to a church down in Pittsburgh that was doing their monthly shapenote singing sing.

Shapenote singing was a 19th century method of teaching folks who couldn’t read music how to do four-part harmony. There are some great modern and older recordings of it on the internet — One of my favorites, from the famous Harry Smith anthology of folk music, is below:

At its best, shapenote singing has am unpolished eerie quality that undermines and delightfully clashes with its stodgier sort of choral aspects. Instead of just beauty, it has roughness and resonance. Like the voice of Ralph Stanley (who grew up in a Primitive Baptist Church, which bar instruments) sometimes does, the strongest shapenote singers have this quality that can only remind me of bagpipes. It just has this huuuugh gut thing.

Mom, who used to play the saxophone and plays piano and guitar, knew enough music to be baffled. I didn’t know enough to know where to begin or how to follow, plus read, plus hear other people, plus hear myself.

In our post-O Brother Where Art Thou?, post-Mumford and Sons world, I was not surprised that the demographics of the singers were middle age nearing old age and younger, scruffier types. I was not the only singer with a pierced nose, for Christ’s sake.

There was someone who swore, and people who seemed devout Christians. The most powerful, ceiling plaster-endangering singer was a middle aged woman with long brown hair who came from God Only Knows, Alabama. She was all down home encouragement and June Carter sass.

Here’s a more recent kind of shapenote singing — less weird and ancient, more just loud:

Though the traditional text, The Sacred Harp, contains mostly songs about Jesus, and other folk I don’t know well, shapenote singing is so perfectly American and strange, and I think it’s wonderful. It is not mine, but I like to borrow it.

My birthday party had a cacophony of people I love very much talking too loudly in too small a space. It was fun, but the diminishing returns of socializing were lurking at its loudest points.

However, S.T. and J.K., musical friends from Richmond and Baltimore respectively, decided to crash and give me musical celebration. When they play together, they are called the Dirty Mallards. I drank my first moonshine in their presence one summer day in 107 degree Richmond weather. From them I learned that “Tommy” without clarification means Tommy Jarrell, the great North Carolina fiddler.

S.T. and J.K. are more libertarian than not. J.K. is more personally conservative, but he has recently attempted to go off the grid, internet-wise, and I have to assume the National Security Agency is a big reason. When I first met S.T. he seemed to have stepped out of the pages of Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic, for all that implies about his views. And that’s not all wrong, but it’s not everything about him. He’s a student of history — and some of his conclusions I might disagree on — but he’s incredibly well-read, as well a an instinctual, leave me alone libertarian. They are both good people who provided with with the best birthday present since my cousin T. got Jello Biafra to insult capitalism just for me.

Now, my one association with Jeff Tucker is that he is endlessly optimistic about the non-state. Culture, markets, music, fast food, all of these do and will continue to bring freedom and choice to people. All of this is beautiful and chaotic instead of planned from above.

So when Tucker uses his “brutalist vs. humanitarian” libertarian metaphor in The Freeman essay, he almost pulls it off. The brutalists stripped down architecture to its cold, practical essence. Brutalist libertarians do the same with their liberty. They say, I have my freedom to be as awful as possible, you have yours, we need not encourage social goodness and kindness and need not discourage racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. within libertarianism.  If it ain’t the state, who cares! Is that really what he thinks will happen in Libertopia? Is that what he thinks will happen without an implied litmus test? Does he think that defending pure liberty is implicitly saying we desire to live in small, mean tribal societies? If Tucker truly believes most, or even a lot of people would pick that, he is not the optimist I thought he was.

Though Tucker does not say as much, and his version of this question is better than any of the ones I have seen recently, the artificially of the two camps still gives me a moment’s pause. Are libertarian J.K. and S.T. and their politically incorrect jokes humanitarian or brutalist? How about my conservative-leaning libertarian father? My an-cap atheist friend who professes to hate feminism, who I recently saw defend the Duke porn star from another Facebook commenter who was calling her trash? My Christian an-cap friend with whom I disagree about gender roles and religion, and who has argued with me about that long into the morning?

Even in Tucker’s Libertopia, I would not surround myself only with the angels of tolerance who are always saying just the right things. So, I certainly don’t want to discount flawed creatures before we get to that free land. We live now in a world in which minorities of ALL stripes are put upon by the state: Religious weirdos, the peaceful, bunker-dwelling racists, the cultists, or for fuck’s sake, just the people who maybe don’t want to use college liberal terms to filter the world. I want them all in my tent as well. I want them if only because more people than any libertarian would wish think they are right-wingers — inherently suspicious, likely bad, for wanting less or no government at all.

Libertarianism and friendships both have a sort of Miller Test. Or, rather you “know it when you see it” — know the good people you want in your life, or in your fight for freedom. I can’t tell you who they are for you, and you can’t tell me either.

I think I know good people who are are not PC and who are also a net gain for liberty in the world. This is not to say that we can’t say, as individual libertarians, or as groups, say we prefer tolerance of gay people to not tolerance. This is only to say that the divisions between libertarians, like anywhere else, are rarely as purely simple as paleo vs. cosmo, conservative vs. liberal, or humanitarian vs. brutalist.  Tucker is, again, incredibly deft and fair in his piece. He doesn’t seem to be trying to kick out anyone at all. But the two camps idea still didn’t seem real enough to justify it as an exercise. There is a danger in making people, even just libertarians, seem that A) or B).

I wanted to write a political response to Tucker’s piece. I was distracted by the pleasures of voluntary culture, and life, and music instead. Hopefully that’s still the point.