Moonshine, Outhouses, and the Art of Conversation

If you’re like me, you end up in conversations with complete strangers every time you tear yourself from the computer and venture out.

Last week I had a doctor’s appointment. As I was waiting for the nurse, I got into a conversation with someone about how the crazy weather in Mobile, hot one day — freezing the next, has made it almost impossible to get rid of winter colds and bugs.

I told this person that when I was a kid, my grandmother kept a bottle of moonshine with a bit of peppermint in it on the top shelf in the kitchen. At the first sniffle, we got a dose of the concoction with honey and were sent to bed drowned in Vick’s Vapor Rub and covered with homemade quilts so heavy, we couldn’t escape if we wanted to.

Then began a lively discussion of growing up in the country and all the things we remembered from the days before TV had more than three channels. Back when we took aluminum foil and applied it to the rabbit ears sitting atop the TV so we could get a clearer picture.

I remember when we got a bathroom inside the house. How my grandfather took out the fireplace between two bedrooms to have it installed. It wasn’t much bigger than a port-a-potty, but believe me, it was so much better than having to go outside to the outhouse at night. Or having to use the chamber pot (if you’re high brow) the slop-jar (if you’re middle class) or the piss pot (if you’re redneck.) Full disclosure, I used the piss pot.

Side note: I have the old slop jar from my grandfather’s house. I’m writing this at my desk looking out of my office window, so I guess someone was wrong when I was told I’d never have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out. (You know who you are.)

People talk about how great the old days were — and they were. It was character building to walk down the dark trail to the outhouse when there was no moon and try to do your business listening to bobcats and screech owls. But I’m happy, thank you very much, with the modern conveniences of today.

I don’t miss only having three channels. I don’t miss the car breaking down and having to wait for someone to come along. I don’t miss getting lost and having to find a phone booth to call for directions. I don’t miss trying to follow a map or handwritten directions, for that matter. I don’t miss having to go to the store every time you had to purchase something. I don’t miss washing dishes by hand or bathing in the big tub on the kitchen floor.

Yet, with all the advantages of living in an age where information is readily available with the touch of a button, there are some things I do miss. Things like sitting on the front porch and listening to my grandfather tell stories, talking to people without being interrupted by the beep of a text message, having a conversation with my grandchildren without them being glued to whatever game they are playing. (Seriously, when they are entranced by a video game, they don’t even hear me talking!)

So I try to carve out a little time every now and then to unplug. Turn off the phone, the computer, and the iPad and spend time just talking to my grandchildren or listening to the silence. It’s not an easy task. They cry, they complain, they pout, but if I can get past the first five minutes, they will talk. They will listen. I’ll tell stories, some of them I remember from my grandfather, some of my own.

It’s well worth the effort. I hope they will remember these times and have that experience with their own children and grandchildren. (Maybe they will talk about the good old days before everyone had smart chips placed in their brains. It’s coming! It’s out there!)

I wouldn’t give up what we’ve gained in technology, but I think it’s a good thing to remember and recreate what we’ve lost. To sit and talk while looking in each others eyes. The art of conversation can’t be learned from a computer or video game. It can only be learned by interacting with each other on a personal level.

So the next time you find yourself sitting next to someone and you have a little time, turn off your phone and strike up a conversation. You’ll be amazed at the things you can learn. Spend an hour talking with your family – no phones allowed.

What about you? Do you plan a time to unplug? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you have any suggestions on how to pry those phones and tablets out of the hands of your children or grandchildren, please pass them along.

 

 

 

 

 

Songs for a Crazy Christmas

We all have Holiday rituals. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, I begin the season by listening to Elvis Presley’s Christmas Album. I rock out to Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me and Santa Claus is Back in Town. Then I shed a few tears when I listen to Blue Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and If Everyday was Like Christmas.

Next, it’s on to The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait and Merry Christmas Darling along with their wonderful renditions of classics like Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

To complete my Black Friday (a day I refuse to leave the house) trifecta, I play Alabama’s Christmas, of course, ending my day with Christmas in Dixie.

While writing this, it becomes clear that I relive my childhood wonder, teenage angst, and early adulthood all in that one day of listening to those three Christmas Albums. I laugh, I cry, I have a drink (not always in that order) and enjoy a day of complete nostalgia before the Holiday madness.

Now here we are on Christmas Eve and as I wait for the big guy to arrive, I thought it’d be fun to look at some more, shall we say unusual Holiday songs I have enjoyed through the years. Here it is: my list of ten Christmas/Holiday Songs for your pleasure and/or horror!

1. Robert Earl Keene’s Merry Christmas from the Family. We’ve all been there! I love this video and its humorous take on family dysfunction – my favorite theme.

2. Grateful for Christmas by Hayes Carll, one of my favorite song writers. If you’ve never listened to Carll, I highly recommend his KMAG YOYO (And Other American Stories) as a late Christmas gift to yourself or someone you love.

3. Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother (Christmas Version) Jerry Jeff Walker is another favorite. I’ve seen him many times in concert and he always delivers. Back in his early days, he was known for getting kicked out of towns that didn’t appreciate his after parties. But he’s slowed down a bit. For a listen of the original click here. And for full disclosure this is a Ray Wylie Hubbard song.

4. Ray Wylie Hubbard’s marvelous sing-a-long at the 2010 Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is a great song. What I love about this video is Hubbard’s interaction with the crowd. He’s one of the cool ones. Here’s a bonus track from his album Delirium Tremolos. Though not a Christmas or gospel song, it is about a family reunion, so I think it’ll count for Christmas. Choctaw Bingo.

5. Emily Lou Harris did a wonderful Christmas album back in the 70’s. I was so happy she included Christmas Time’s A-Comin’, a song Mama used to sing to us when we were little. So this one’s for Mama.

6. Now for all my Jewish friends, the original Adam Sandler Hanukkah Song from SNL’s 1994 Christmas show. And for those who are big fans of Sandler, check out Part 2 and Part 3.

7. Keeping in line with SNL and my favorite Holiday songs and skits, here’s a 2005 TV Funhouse Video, Christmas Time for the Jews.

8. And of course, could we forget Justin Timberlake and Andy Samburg’s Dick in a Box? Parental warning: this is the uncensored version, as you could probably tell by the title.

9. Here’s one from my childhood. The great Buck Owens with Santa Looked a lot Like Daddy. Love that Bakersfield Sound!
10. Before I tell you the last choice, I have to admit it has been called the worst Christmas Song of all time. BUT it’s Dylan! So here it is: It Must Be Santa from Christmas in the Heart.
And for a bonus song, I’ll add John Denver’s Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas.) You may like the Alan Jackson cover. It’s more old-school Country.
So there you have it. Hope you all have a wonderful Holiday, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, whatever you celebrate may it be a time of joy and peace! 
Catch you in the new year!
If any of you have a favorite Christmas Song a little off the beaten path, I’d love for you to share! 

 

Life Lessons from a Friend

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have people come into our lives who make us better. My friend Charles McInnis was such a person.

My favorite question from Charles was “What if?” He was always encouraging and helpful to everyone he met. He had a way of making you feel like you were the most talented person in the room, but we all knew that he was. His talents went far beyond writing, teaching and photography. He had that talent so few of us have — the talent to bring out the best in others. To point out possibilities. To make us believe in ourselves. To ask, What if?

I first meet Charles at a writer’s editing group. We hit it off immediately. We discovered that we had grown up a stone’s throw away from each other, in the same east Alabama county. I had taught at Horseshoe Bend, the setting for one of his stories. It was common ground for us. I knew where Frog Eye, Alabama was located. He knew my childhood doctor in Eufaula, Alabama. It seems that every time we got together, we would find out something new we had in common.

I had brought a little short story to the group for feedback. Within an hour of getting home, Charles emailed me with one of his “what ifs?” Throughout the rest of that year we would bounce ideas off one another, meeting when we could to discuss writing and writers. He always made time to give me feedback on my work. We both were similar in what we found funny, and I loved reading and commenting on whatever he was writing.

Charles was a wealth of information. He was a retired physics teacher. He could talk about the subject on a level that even a retired literature teacher could understand. (This is no easy feat!) We talked about our travels. He was always eager to hear about where I’d been and offer suggestions of where to go when I went to New York.

Even when an illness kept me at home for much of last year and I didn’t see him as often as I would have liked, he would send along a web address or an article for me to read.

One of the last emails we exchanged was a list of unusual Alabama towns. I told him that AL.com was working on an article about unusual Alabama town names, and he immediately started sending suggestions: Screamer (a town we both knew well), Frog Eye, Smuteye, Bug Tussle, Scratch Ankle, Buzzard Roost, Half Chance. He could have said that’s interesting, I’ll have to read it. But that wasn’t Charles. He took the time to look up towns and send them to me. He was one to always go the extra mile.

I will miss our chats and collaborations. He was a driving force behind my first book. In fact, he did the cover for me. (Without being asked.) He just did it. That was Charles. He contacted me when it was published to say he had bought a copy. I had one for him, but he felt strongly about supporting indie authors, so he had already bought one. That was Charles. We were working on a project, and he had made a mock-up of a magazine cover which read: Tea Cakes and Whiskey, a new story of  family dysfunction, by Kat Kennedy. I said, “Now, I have to write this story.” I was setting up my website at the time and asked him if I could use Tea Cakes and Whiskey for its title. I didn’t want to steal such a wonderful idea. And of course, he said, “It’s yours. It fits you.” That was Charles.

When I attended the memorial for Charles on Saturday, I felt blessed to be among his family and the people he called friends. I think he would have liked the tribute. It was simple and beautiful and moving. As we shared our stories about Charles and his impact on us and the community, I was reminded of how very generous and giving he was to everyone.

Charles R. McInnis
Charles R. McInnis

I was looking through some old emails and edits from Charles and ran across something he wrote in answer to the question: How do you find time to write?

I think the most valuable thing to do in fiction is to give the characters important things to do. Writing becomes easy then, and the characters perform. You must write in order to see what your characters are going to say and do. It is difficult to write about characters doing mundane things. Finding time to write when characters have clear objectives is easy.

Certainly, Charles didn’t write about mundane things. His stories are funny and creative. I think his words on ‘making time’ fit perfectly with how he lived. He made time. Time to help, to create, to travel, to learn, to teach, to care for others. He told me one day when we were planning a group picnic, “I’ll bring my never-used kayak. There are no stories for a never used kayak.”

I hope we all learn the truth of that simple phrase. Use your kayak! Live your life! Make a difference in any way you can! Charles made a difference.

I am eternally grateful for his encouragement and guidance. So I ask the question, “What if?” What if we all lived life to the fullest as Charles did? What if we gave our time and knowledge to others without expecting anything in return? What if we use our kayak?

I don’t know the answer to what happens when we die. Wherever his spirit is, I say, “Happy kayaking, my friend! Well done!”

 

Love Bugs and Love Songs

Those of us who live in the South know them well. Those pesky little creatures that fly around in pairs, attached to each other like teenagers to their cell phones.

They’re back!

Love bugs tend to come around in early spring and fall. They make a mess of your car, your outside living space and are a general nuisance. While swatting them away this morning, I thought it might be interesting to come up with a list of love songs to go with their infestation. Maybe it was the humidity seeping in my brain, but in either case, here’s my list.

I suppose I should admit that I’m not a real fan of most love songs. Too sentimental and sappy for me. So my list will not include the usual fare of “you make me feel oh so happy, let’s runaway together and get married, if you leave me I’ll die …”

Yet, there are a few songs I consider love songs, though a bit off the beaten path of Top 40 Radio crap.

1. Southeastern by Jason Isbell was released last year. It is one of the best albums out there. Written after Isbell got sober, it is honest and brutal (my requirements for a good love song.) Listen to Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires performance of Cover Me Up on Austin City Limits. If you haven’t heard Isbell, you are missing out. He just sold out the Ryman for a three night show in October.

2. Marie from Randy Newman’s concepts album, Good Old Boys. Slow and bluesy, this song gets me everytime. The whole album is one of my favs. Though not politically correct in today’s society of “let’s not insult anyone” Newman’s 1974 offering is a funny and scathing satire on Southern racism and Yankee hypocrisy. Now y’all don’t mad, just listen to the album.

3. Tom Waits, Long Way Home. I love Tom Waits and his graveled voice. I think I like this because my father always took the long way home. Also, if you’ve not seen his performance in Seven Psychopaths, it is brilliant. Bonus track: Waltzing Matilda, live from 1977.

4. Ray LaMontagne’s Jolene is one of those that you’ll listen to over and over. I first heard it on Zac Brown Band’s The Foundation. Loved it then, but after hearing LaMontagne sing it, I really got the haunting quality of the song. For fun, here’s the Zac Brown Band cover.

5. Gonna take a detour here, and include George Jones’ Love Bug, in honor of the little buggers that inspired this blog in the first place. Have fun, he’s George Jones — ’nuff said. Added bonus: Check out Jamey Johnson in The Grand Ole Opry tribute to Jones.

6. Now let’s get back to the honest and brutal stuff. The Flying Burrito Brothers with Hot Burrito #1. Check out Gram Parsons’ Nudie suit! FYI: Gram Parsons was the first to imagine fusing country and rock music. He called it Cosmic American Music. Used to get his ass kicked in the Okie bars outside of L.A. One of the true musical geniuses.

7. Since I mentioned Gram Parsons, I have to include Boulder to Birmingham by Emmy Lou Harris. Harris wrote this with Bill Danoff after Gram, her musical soul mate, died from an overdose in a Joshua Tree motel room. Bonus: Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris singing Love Hurts and Return of the Grievous Angel. Oh hell, just go listen to some Gram Parsons!

8. Let’s get back to the Love Bug theme. Charles Bradley, Love Bug Blues, “What are you gonna do when love get ahold of you?” What indeed? Bradley’s life story is fascinating. He made his debut record at the age of 62. Here’s a link to the trailer of the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America. It is well worth the watch.

9. I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers, North Carolina natives who combine bluegrass, country, punk, and folk for a unique blend of Americana music.

10. One of my favorite songs, Wild Horses originally recorded by The Rolling Stones in Alabama’s own, Muscle Shoals, in 1969. Here they are listening to the recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. (Great article and pics from AL.com about the studio and its upcoming revival by Dr. Dre.) Gram Parsons cut the song with The Flying Burrito Brothers and that version was released in 1970, a year before Sticky Fingers came out. Listen to their version here.

Well there you have it. Ten of my favorite love songs. Of course, I can think of ten more from the era of the Muscle Shoals sound. But we’ll save that for another day.

So, what about it? Any of you have a favorite love song to share? Would love to hear them!

 

A Little Summer Joy with The Excelsior Band

As the heat and humidity has been ridiculously off the charts this week, I’ve been looking for a little diversion. The public library is the perfect place to get in out of the heat and enjoy the entertainment offered during their Summer Reading Program.

The famed Excelsior Band has been making the library rounds this week and the program was especially entertaining.

The Excelsior Band was established in 1883. Many of the current members have been playing with the band for 40+ years.

I knew it would be great. I’ve watched The Excelsior Band perform for Mardi Gras since moving to Mobile 11 years ago, and they never fail to put on a great show. The show at West Regional Mobile Library was no exception.

Excelsior Band plays for Summer Reading Program

Excelsior Band members are from left to right: Hosea London, Marion Ward, Leon Rhoden (drums), Kevin Ward, (special guest and son of Marion Ward, Theodore Arthur, and Charles Hall.

The guys were great with the young audience. But there was one young attendee that stole the show. The moment the band began to play three-year-old Kathryn Green began to dance in time with the music.

Kathryn Green enjoys the Excelsior Band.3 year old Kathryn Green (standing) enjoys the band. Kathryn is the daughter of Matt and Mary Green.

It was a joy to watch her uninhibited delight as she kept time with the band and tried to get the whole crowd into it. If you need a little pick me up you can watch Kathryn’s performance here.

(A big thank-you to parents Matt and Mary Green for sharing their daughter with the rest of us.)

As I watched Kathryn’s performance, I couldn’t help but imagine how wonderful it would be if we all had her ability to fully live in the moment. To let loose and leave our inhibitions behind and embrace life with pure elation. It’s a lesson we all could use.

I left smiling. Her joy and enthusiasm was contagious.

Isn’t that what life is all about? To have joy and enthusiasm and share it with those around us?

I hope you take the time today to enjoy Kathryn’s dance and listen to the Excelsior Band. I promise it will bring you a smile. And maybe help you forget about the heat for a minute.

Red Clay Readers Take on Robert Inman’s Home Fires Burning

I’ve been reading the summer selections of the Red Clay Readers, AL.com’s on-line book club. Today I’d like to share my review of Alabamian, Robert Inman’s, first novel, Home Fires Burning.

When Jessica Sawyer Rigby first approached me to write the review, I was excited because I met Inman at the Alabama Writer’s Symposium a few months ago and attended a wonderful discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird featuring Inman, Mark Childress and Jeanie Thompson.

After reading the book, I’ve become a fan of Inman and can’t wait to read his other novels, Captain Saturday,  Dairy Queen Days, Old Dogs and Children, Coming Home, and his latest, The Governor’s Lady. Inman also has a children’s book, The Christmas Bus.

So here’s my review of Home Fires Burning. If any of you are interested in participating in the on-line chat with Inman, please join us Friday, June 27 at 10:00 am. Our last chat was on John Green’s, The Fault in Our Stars, which you can read here. You can sign up for the club, access all book reviews and the chat here.

Characters, setting, storyline make Inman’s ‘Home Fires Burning’ a timeless treat to read

Sometimes you read a novel that grabs you and leaves you thinking of its characters long after you’ve finished reading — a work that you rush to finish while hating to see it end. “Home Fires Burning” is that kind of  book.

Written by Elba native Robert Inman, the book encompasses the lives of three generations of an established family in a small Southern town during the last days of World War II. Inman’s depiction of the social hierarchy of the small town is written with truth and humor. Jake Tibbetts, the editor of the town newspaper started by his grandfather, Captain Finley Tibbetts, after the Civil War, is the central character. And a character he is. Jake is opinionated, bull-headed and eccentric. He is coming to terms with aging; he is the self-imposed voice of the community through his newspaper, The Free Press; he is married to Pastine, a woman who can hold her own against his orneriness; he is taking care of his 12-year-old grandson, Lonnie, while his son, Henry, is in Europe fighting; and he is facing the changes brought on by wartime. For Jake, a staunch believer in taking responsibility for oneself, the war has brought about circumstances that challenge his core belief in his ability to “take his life in his own hands and shaking it for all it’s worth.”

Jake discovers there are trials in life that may make his motto impossible to follow. What does a man like Jake do when life becomes a thing he can’t control? For Jake, there is no easy answer. He finds himself lost in the chaos of happenings beyond his control, yet he struggles to live by his motto no matter the collateral damage. It is his finding his way that is so compelling about the book. Jake butts heads at every turn. What he views as faults in others, leads to both funny and tragic situations.

The novel immediately reminded me of my grandfather, who much like Jake, held on to his view of the world, even as that world around him changed. This is what makes the novel both intriguing and timeless. We all struggle with a changing world and how our beliefs and convictions are sometimes rocked by the changes over which we have no control. Not only does Jake have to deal with immediate situations (his son’s pregnant wife showing up on Christmas Day), he has to deal with a legacy of mental and physical illness, what he calls the Tibbetts’ curse.

Inman has written a book that deals with the human struggle to understand oneself and others in the face of change and the ghosts of the past and given us a look into these common struggles. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Jake must deal with his family’s past and its effects on him, his son, Henry, and his grandson, Lonnie. The past is ever present in his life as it is with us all. In his grandfather’s Civil War sword which hangs over the mantel, a testament to heroism and family legacy. In the tragedy of his son, an alcoholic who leaves the scene of the accident that kills his wife, Lonnie’s mother and daughter of his best friend, Rosh. In his father’s depression which he fears may have been reborn in Lonnie. Yet, Jake tries to hold his belief in his ability to take responsibility for his own life even as that life is growing out of control.

Home Fires Burning cover.jpgView full size

One of the best aspects of Inman’s work is his ability to bring humor into Jake’s struggle. There are wonderfully funny scenes that break the tension. Pastine brandishes Captain Finley Tibbetts’ sword when Jake refuses to speak to Henry’s new wife and baby; a love-sick pilot lands on the road in front of his girl’s house, leading the town fathers to believe they are being attacked by the Germans; Henry, home from the war, drinks the local bootlegger’s Lightnin’ Jim’s Best and steals the town’s fire truck; and Jake writes some very witty and biting columns in The Free Press concerning some of the town’s prominent citizens. These are all laugh-out-loud moments.

And there are some really insightful quotes:

“Man’s avarice is exceeded only by his curiosity. And man is never more curious than he is about the avarice of others.”

“There’s only two things standing between man and perfection, gents, and that’s meanness and ignorance.”

“He grieved a bit for himself, for all men who must grow old and face the certainty of their own mortality, knowing for all their age and wisdom, they go naked and blind into the dark night.”

“Most of the failures of this world are failures of imagination.”

“Home Fires Burning” has no lack of imagination. From beginning to end, the reader is entranced by the characters, the setting and the story of the Tibbetts family.

To quote Jake, “A man has to take his life into his own hands and shake it for all it’s worth.” We are fortunate that Inman took this story and shook it for all it’s worth. With the shaking, a brilliant novel was born with a cast of characters as memorable as a plane landing in front of your house. It’s a book you won’t forget.

AL.com’s Red Clay Readers, in partnership with the Alabama Center for Literary Arts, is a book club designed to take a fresh look at Alabama-affiliated literature with the help of our readers. 

 

Jumping on the Wagon: Hayride2

What could be more thrilling than watching a movie premiere with the actors, director and producers sitting in the same theater? How about watching that movie at The Crescent Theater when one of the stars of the show is the city of Mobile itself?

Last Tuesday, June 12, writer/director, Terron Parsons, premiered his movie, Hayride 2, to an enthusiastic audience of 180 and followed the premiere with an after-party at Sky View Lounge.

Jonathan Kelley, Producer; Fleetwood Covington, Composer; and Terron Parsons, Writer/Director
Jonathan Kelley, Producer; Fleetwood Covington, Composer; and Terron Parsons, Writer/Director

 

Though I’m not generally a horror/slasher film fanatic, I’ve seen a good bit of the genre and Hayride 2 is a fine offering.(Plenty of cover-your-face, grip the arm of your chair and “ugh” moments.) It grabs your attention from the first scene, in this case a few scenes from Hayride rendering it accessible to those who haven’t seen the first movie. And Fleetwood Covington’s musical score is the perfect accompaniment to the film.

Both Hayride films are based on the legend of Pitchfork, a psycho farmer who goes crazy and murders his own family before unleashing his wrath on the community. Some of the best scenes are centered around Captain Morgan’s (Mobilian, Richard Tyson), rendering of the story.

I don’t attend a great deal of movie premieres, but I found it entertaining to look around the audience and wonder who would be left standing at the end of the film. No spoilers here. You have to see it to find out.

Jeremiah Sande, Sherri Eakin and Jeremy Ivy star in Hayride2
Jeremiah Sande, Sherri Eakin and Jeremy Ivy star in Hayride2

For me, one of the main attractions is the setting. The movie was filmed in various locations around Mobile and Baldwin counties. The main setting for Hayride 2 is the old Providence Hospital, which is extremely spooky in itself. It was a great location for the sequel and allowed for wonderful moments of suspense and creepiness.

In a pre-premiere article, Parsons told Al.com’s Tamara Ikenberg,“Working in the inner bowels of an abandoned hospital even spooked a lot of the crew.” He also gives credit to  the Mobile Film Office for finding the hospital.

Attending the premiere at The Crescent Theater was an added bonus for me, as it is one of the best venues in Mobile. (It’s always a treat to go to The Crescent.)
Kelly and Parsons with the Sound Designers of Boutwell Studios.
Kelly and Parsons with the Sound Designers of Boutwell Studios.

Parsons and fellow producer Jonathan Kelly are hoping to continue to be able to bring their films to the area. Parsons stated, “I feel very blessed to be able to work in the area I live in and I hope that I am able to keep bringing our movies here. We have two more movies slated to shoot here in the next 12 months, providing that we secure the rest of the financing.”

Terron and his wife, Jennifer in front of the Hayride2 Poster.
Terron and his wife, Jennifer in front of the Hayride2 Poster.

So, a few other great things to add to the Huffington Post’s list of great things in Mobile. A growing film industry, wonderful talented filmmakers and a unique art-house theater right in downtown.

Thanks to people like Parsons and Kelly, Mobile is buzzing along. (Or is that Pitchfork?) Either way, I feel lucky to live in a community that supports local talent and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, though that might not include creepy old Providence Hospital.

Going for the Gusto

I made a deal with myself a few years ago. For the rest of my life I will do what I want to do. I will “Suck the marrow out of life.” Enjoy my family and friends.

Now I suppose this sounds like a no-brainer for a person of my — um, age. But I’ve discovered how quickly time can go by.As Dylan croons, “Time is a jet-plane/It moves too fast.”  (You’re a Big Girl Now, from Blood on the Tracks.)

It does indeed, my friends.

Now I say all this, to tell you that life is short. Since I hit my 50’s, I’ve fit in a trip to Boston, one to Philly, and a week in New York City. I’ve been on a two-week road trip to Colorado with my sister-in-law.

I love concerts, so I’ve decided to attend every concert possible here in my pre-twilight years. The last couple of years, I’ve been to two Gregg Allman concerts, Lynard Skynard, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Leon Russel, The Sounds of Summer with Boz Skaggs, Michael McDonald, and Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, two Jason Isbell concerts, one of those with Justin Townes Earle, Hank Williams Jr., Hall and Oates, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Bob Dylan. I’ve been to see Joan Rivers. I’ve gone to comedy shows, theater, anywhere I could score a cheap ticket.

This may not seem like much to most of y’all, but I will confess that during the early 2000’s, I had to retire from teaching because of illness, an unexpected life change that hit me hard. I spent a year pretty much in bed due to health issues. I spent the time watching foreign films so my mind was engaged in reading the subtitles. I learned to get out there and enjoy life every day that I’m able to get up and walk.

I’ve finished a book, and am close to completing my second.

My husband and I are in the process of selling our house, giving away or selling over half of our possessions, and moving to downtown Mobile because I want to be closer to the writing groups and coffee shops where I love to read on open-mic night. I want to walk out of my front door and watch a Mardi Gras parade. 

I want to travel more, to write, to live life to the fullest.

So on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I kicked off the summer with a concert at The Wharf in Orange Beach, AL. 

The show started with Don Felder, former Eagles guitarist, followed by Styx and then Foreigner. As I said, I love nothing more than going to a live show. Especially at The Wharf. The crowds are good, the beer cold and the sound in this Amphitheater is fantastic.

What I really loved about this show was listening to favorites from my younger days that for some reason or other I had missed along the way. Want to feel seventeen again? Catch an act from your youth and let loose.

Felder, an amazing guitarist, delievered. And no, it wasn’t the Eagles, but still a stellar act. I loved singing along with the Southern Crowd on Seven Bridges Road, one of my all-time favorites. Tommy Shaw, lead singer of Styx, and a Montgomery, AL boy joined along for Hotel California.

Styx was also awesome, and though I had only listened to their radio songs, I enjoyed the show. Foreigner I knew a little better and their performance was top-notch.

This past Thursday, I went back to The Wharf to attend the Zac Brown Band concert. I’d been hoping to catch them since I heard The Foundation. What can I say? AWESOME!

Side note: If you haven’t heard the new EP by Zac Brown Band that was produced by Dave Grohl, you should check it out! It’s absolutely fabulous. The Grohl Sessions Vol. I

I’m having a great time! My wish for you dear readers: if you haven’t already, find the thing that makes you happy, makes you feel young, makes you smile and go for it!

And if you ever get down to Mobile and want to attend the oldest Mardi Gras parade, I’d love to have a drink with you!

Have a good one!

 

Winding Down To Kill a Mockingbird

As I mentioned earlier, I have been involved in the AL.com Red Clay Readers Book Club study of To Kill a Mockingbird. On Friday, April 25th the book club culminated in a round table discussion of the book lead by Alec Harvey and featuring this year’s Harper Lee Award recipient, Mark Childress, the wonderful Robert Inman, and Executive Director of Alabama Writers’ Forum, Jeanie Thompson.

Jessica Sawyer-Rigby, the dynamic force behind this great endeavor, was wonderful at getting things organized and keeping us on track. I was thrilled and honored when she approached me to be a part of the study by joining other Alabama writers in recording a video of my impressions of the the novel and its influence on my own writing.

I spent a great weekend in Monroeville, AL, the real-life Maycomb, attending the Alabama Writer’s Symposium’s Conference where Mark Childress was honored with this year’s Harper Lee Award. Childress is a delightful writer and speaker and I enjoyed meeting him on Saturday. We were even given a reading of his WIP!

I didn't notice until I got home that Mark Childress was holding a copy of my book!
I didn’t notice until I got home that Mark Childress was holding a copy of my book!

Friday night, I attended the hometown production of To Kill a Mockingbird in the Monroe Country Courthouse. The Mockingbird Players work tirelessly to present the production each year. It was quite the experience to watch the trial of Tom Robinson from the balcony of the courtroom. I really got a feel for the inspiration for Harper Lee’s novel and it was exciting to be in the town that produced such wonderful writers as Harper Lee, Truman Capote and this year’s recipient, Mark Childress. It is an experience I’d recommend to anyone interested in literature. The town retains it quaint atmosphere and, of course, the Southern hospitality flows as freely as the sweet tea.

For those who wish to take a peek at the articles and videos, you can find the whole study on AL.com. I was particularly happy to hear from attendees how the study was a good teaching tool in the classroom, as well as a great way to join in a book club discussion in the age of computers and social media. Many people expressed how nice it is to be able to participate in a book club on-line.

Red Clay Readers book club is considering doing a quick summer study of several books. Maybe a little light summer reading. And look for a study of one of Mark Childress’ books. Not sure what is in store, but I’ll keep you informed.

It’s a wonderful experience!

 

 

April is the Cruelest Month: Songs for Tax Day

When T.S. Eliot wrote The Waste Land, I’m not sure he had tax season in mind. But he hit the nail on the head with the opening lines. So in honor/horror of the upcoming tax deadline, I thought it would be interesting to come up with a playlist dedicated to April 15th, the deadline for filing taxes here in the states. So here’s my top ten.

1. Let’s start with the man in black, Johnny Cash. After Taxes is Cash’s tribute song to all the taxes we have to pay. Is anyone better than Cash?

2. Of course, you can’t think taxes without thinking Willie Nelson. I had trouble narrowing it down to one song, so I’m cheating (not on my taxes, IRS) and including two Willie Nelson songs I deem appropriate for tax day. First song that comes to mind is The Party’s Over. Then what else after paying a hefty tax but Whiskey River. Enjoy this video from Austin City Limits where he plays for the first time with the great Asleep at the Wheel.

3. Now let’s go waaay back. The Mississippi Sheiks from 1934 Sales Tax. Wouldn’t it be great if sales tax were only 3 cents per dollar these days?

4. Matt Cline is a humorous political singer. Here’s his take on the IRS. There’s Taxes Everywhere is a parody of the old song, I’ve Been Everywhere written in 1959 by Australian Geoff Mack and recorded (most famously in the US) by Hank Snow and Johnny Cash.

5. Johnny Paycheck, one of the quintessential outlaw singers, with Me and the IRS.

6. Gotta Serve Somebody from Dylan’s Slow Train Coming. Here is a great cover by the wonderful Etta James.

7. Steve Miller Band’s Take the Money and Run. How many times did I listen to the 8-track of this?

8. 1040 Blues by Robert Cray is a fun little blues song.

9. School House Rock’s Tax Man Max. Those of a certain age will remember the School House Rock videos. I think these little jingles were planted in my brain when I was a kid. I can remember all the words to most of them.

10. Of course, the list wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Taxman found on Revolver by The Beatles.

So if you’re like me and need a little song therapy to get through tax day, enjoy these offerings. Plus, if you have any other songs that make you laugh while crying, please comment and share. We can all use a good laugh right about now.

To Kill a Mockingbird Interview

As I mentioned in my last blog, I spent last week preparing for a crew to come to my home and shoot a video about my thoughts on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s a little unnerving when you are sitting with two cameras pointed at you, but the interview for AL.com under the great direction of Jessica Sawyer Rigby and videographer extraoidinaire, Mike Brantley was so much fun. Jessica asked me a few weeks back to say a few things about To Kill a Mockingbird for one of the author video spots of the AL.com sponsered Red Clay Readers book club. Because of Jessica and Mike’s laid-back approach, I was put right at ease and the interview went off without a hitch.

(To see Mike Brantley’s fab pictures of Monroeville, AL and read Jessica’s article about the Red Clay Readers, click here.)

So here’s the video, along with Amber Sutton’s fantastic article discussing Chapters 3 and 4. If any of you would like to join in the discussion, you can sign up on the AL.com website. 

Also, check out Winston Groom’s take on the novel and and read Cheryl Wray’s article on Chapters 1 and 2. Rick Bragg will be the guest on tomorrow’s video spot.

Hope to see you there.

Reflections on To Kill a Mockingbird

AL.com has just announced the creation of the on-line book club Red Clay Readers. The first selection is To Kill a Mockingbird, the pivotal, Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Monroeville native Harper Lee.

I  was honored to be asked to do a short video about how the book influenced me as a reader and writer.

So this week, a video crew came to my home to interview me about the work. As I quickly began to get my house in order for their visit, my mind raced with ideas and thoughts about the novel. I had re-read the work a few weeks ago, and as usually is the case when picking up a beloved book and reading it with fresh (older) eyes, I was amazed at how the work had indeed shaped my thoughts and opinions.

This was my first introduction to Southern Literature in general and Southern Gothic in particular. I was in love. With the book, with Scout and Jem, with Boo Radley. It was a work to which I could relate.

If any of you would like to join us in the discussion, you can sign up at AL.com. There are several articles by Jessica Sawyer Rigby on the Red Clay Readers. This week kicks off with Monday’s discussion and a video from Winston Groom. Remaining video’s for the week will be yours truly on Wednesday and Rick Bragg on Friday.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a few thoughts about the work and sharing some of the videos with you.

Hope to see you in the discussion.

 

Saint Patrick’s Day & Leprechauns

For those of you who are not familiar with the Crichton Leprechaun of Mobile, AL, I thought I’d take a few minutes and give you a St. Patty’s Day laugh.

When the story first hit in 2006, it became a web phenomenon even bringing Daniel Tosh to Mobile to investigate the sighting for Tosh.O.

Though it’s been nine years since the sighting, no pot of gold has been found, and the leprechaun has not returned. At least not as far as I know.

We here in Mobile have enjoyed the story, especially the amateur sketch of said leprechaun and the theories which emerged as people came down to the tree to try and catch a glimpse of the little guy.

I’ve seen t-shirts for sell sporting the amateur sketch leaving me to believe there might have been a little gold up in that there tree.

So grab your green beer, your Irish coffee or your celebratory drink of choice and enjoy this very funny St. Patty’s Day happening. And if you have a two-thousand year old leprechaun flute and a nearby tree, maybe you too will get a visit from our local legend.

Just one more reason I LOVE MOBILE!

Leprechaun Spotted in Mobile, AL

Rainy Day Songs

So with all the rain we’ve been having on the Gulf Coast the last few day, I thought it might be fun to explore some of my favorite rainy day music.

The first that comes to mind is Tom Waits, Rains on Me.

I’ll admit that Waits is perhaps an acquired taste, but I love his gravely, bluesy voice. And if you haven’t caught him in Seven Psychopaths, as the bunny-loving Psychopath #7, you’ve missed a real treat. Along with Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell (brilliant in this film), Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson, Waits performance is as wonderfully wicked and bizarre as the movie. If you’re into dark humor, this film is a must see.

Next in line for fav rainy day songs is Randy Newman’s Louisiana, 1927, released in 1974 on Newman’s Good Old Boys. The work is a concept album which delved into subjects like Southern institutionalized racism and Northern hypocrisy. Viewed in today’s movement toward political correctness, the album can be seen as distasteful, but Newman’s satirical take on American society in the 1970’s has been praised for its brutal honesty and clever songwriting.

Two more fine songs for a rainy day are Rainy Day Dream Away and Still Raining,Still Dreaming from The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland. Hendrix is always good, rain or shine, but I really enjoy listening when the weather is keeping me in and I need a little of his unique guitar playing to pull me through. If it’s been a while since you’ve listened to Hendrix or if god-forbid you’ve never really gotten into his work, this is his quintessential recording.

Next on my list, two offerings by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Have You Ever Seen the Rain? and Who’ll Stop the Rain. ‘Nuff said. Except to point out there is a movie, Who’ll Stop the Rain, which features several CCR songs for those of you who would rather watch a movie while avoiding the downpour. I haven’t seen it since it came out in 1978, but from what I remember is was good.

Finally, Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, is a fun song to wash away those rainy day blues. In fact, I think I’m going to listen to Blonde on Blonde right now. Can’t think of a better way to end the day.

Happy listening.

 

 

Inside Llewyn Davis at The Crescent

If you haven’t had a chance to see Inside Llewyn Davis, you can catch it at The Crescent through February 13th, so you haven’t yet missed the best movie of the year.

I’ve been waiting for months to see it and wasn’t disappointed. So for those of you who haven’t made up your minds if it’s worth the time and money, here’s my top ten reasons for going.

1- It’s playing at The Crescent. I can think of no better venue to set the mood for this Coen Brothers, soon to be classic, than the folksy atmosphere of this theater. There were times I had to check myself, less I snap my fingers or politely clap at the end of a smoky, folk performance on the screen. I don’t think the experience would have been as enjoyable at another venue.

2- Great music. Of course, I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to movies about great music. The title character is loosely based on one of my favorites, Dave Van Ronk, and many of his songs are done perfectly by Oscar Isaac as Llewyn. Even the title is a nod to Van Ronk’s 1964 album, Inside Dave Van Ronk. The movie follows one week in the life of the hapless Llewyn Davis. It is set in the pre-Dylan, folk music elitism of Greenwich Village. The Coen Brothers catch the tension between the two competing factions — the authentic vs commercial aspects of the folk scene — that were vying for position in the early 60’s.

3- The Coen Brothers. Can they do any wrong? I’ve been a big fan for years, and especially appreciate their dedication to bringing great music to audiences. From Oh Brother, Where art Thou? with its use of bluegrass to The Big Lebowski with their choice of Townes Van Zandt’s rendition of The Stones’ Dead Flowers, the Coen’s selection of music has always been spot-on.

4- T Bone Burnett. Who could go wrong with T. Bone Burnett in the executive music producer’s chair. (See above.) His love and feel for American music is evident in every soundtrack he  has produced.

5- Oscar Isaac. The choice of Isaac for the weary, hapless, free-loading, enigmatic Llewyn Davis is genius. Isaac, a gifted musician, embodies the feel of the pre-Dylan village perfectly.

6- Carey Mulligan. Mulligan is excellent as the angry Jean of the folk duo Jim and Jean. She has the sweet look of a flower child and the brooding intensity of a conflicted woman on the verge of the women’s movement awakened by the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

7- Justine Timberlake. Great in his portrayal of Jim, the partner of Jean, the clean-cut, commercialized folk singer. One of the funniest scenes is Timberlake’s recording of Please, Mr. Kennedy, a nod to the nonsense of one-hit wonders of the early 60’s.

8- Adam Driver. As Al Cody, Driver is hilarious in the studio scene. Best known as Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) love interest in Girls, he brings the element of the 60’s longing for reinvention to Inside Llewyn Davis.

9- John Goodman. Need I say more? Here’s a clip of Goodman as Roland Turner.

10- The cat. The Coen brothers have stated publicly they will never work with cats again. Ulysses, the cat is a big part of the movie. There is much symbolism involved with this cat, and I’ve read numerous interpretations of what the cat means. Who is the cat? Follow the cat. Is Llewyn the cat? If you are like me, and like to “go down the rabbit hole” then you’ll have fun with the cat. I leave this one to you.

So that’s my ten reasons for catching Inside Llewyn Davis at The Crescent while you still have a chance. I could have made this list into twenty reasons, probably more. It’s the kind of movie you’ll want to see over and over, to pull back its many layers.

But if you’re not like me and don’t care to analyze every aspect of the movie, you’ll still enjoy it for its music, its cinematography and its downright magical screenwriting.

Don’t miss this one!