Thursday, August 05, 2010

at a very busy corner in town, by the rebuilt burger-king and the old hollywoods, a suitcase fell out of an open trailer and fell right into the road, not directly in front of me, but a lane or two over. i honked and the car pulled over; somebody would have to retrieve it from a very busy road. cars were beginning to swerve around it; it was a little chaotic. i had takeout food in the van so i didn't stop. how different it is, i thought, when the suitcase flies open and the clothes go blowing in the wind. or when it's a piano.

a heat wave came through, and it was over a hundred for several days, but finally rained this morning, the rain steaming up the place and watering the parched browned-out grass. it allowed me to test out two ideas: one, it's not the heat, it's the humidity; our perception of "terrible" or "uncomfortable" should be based on the humidity alone, really, if you ask me. i rode a bike home in the 100+, but it wasn't really that bad, as even at that time, there was a little breeze, and sun had baked out all the humidity. this morning, on the other hand, after the cool shower, it was up near 100%- though it was cooler, it was like swimming. you couldn't distinguish the water from the air. i got a ride to work; there's no sense riding a bike through a puddle.

on the fiddle i'm trying to learn ashokan farewell; this is a song that has come to represent the civil war, apparently, due to a television series a few years back. the series may be forgotten, but the song is not; people still drag it out as a revived oldie. but the you-tube that has the best version of it is quite grisly. don't know if these pictures are from the television series or not; but, i can tell you that this was a pretty harsh war. now here's the question. i live in an area that is technically in the north, but had a lot of southern sympathizers; it was settled almost entirely by southerners, and border staters; almost everyone came from down there. even our most famous favorite son was a southerner who apparently sold out to the highest bidder (the north)...so there was a lot of hard feelings, a lot of divided families; a lot of brothers who shot at brothers, etc. is this a song i should bring out? is this a memory i want to cultivate? i already have abe on my license plate. does this get under people's skin or what? i know that a lot of people like to dress up and simulate the thing, but really i just want to play the song; i'm not really sure i want to dredge all that stuff up, or whether it is better in general to let it rest.

so i got this idea to find all the versions of it on youtube, and there really are quite a few of them, some done on the banjo, some on the mandolin or pennywhistle, some by beautiful 'celtic ladies' or by other stars. no reason i have to look at grisly pictures every time i want to hear the song, is there? and the totality of your experience, if you do this, is to get a very diverse crowd of interpretations of it, even diverse spellings of the title, but also diverse settings, some people did it in a church, or a living room with a moving clock in the background, or somewhere in front of their cell-phone. and some are quite good, very in tune, good harmony, lots of things to consider. so it's the luck of this song, to resurface at a time when the common people are recording themselves and putting this stuff all over the web. it's my luck too, because i find it best to hear lots of versions, before settling on my own style. before making my own movie, as it were.

there was a guy here in this town; i didn't know him, but he was well-loved, a nice old guy, playing the fiddle down at the unitarian one day, and played this song, then died. i heard the story, as it happened fairly recently, and everyone knew him, except maybe me, but i wondered a little about why things turn out the way they do, and actually, truth be told, this is my motivation for learning the song. not necessarily to remember a guy that i didn't really know, or to remember a war that is probably better forgotten - i'm not sure, exactly, what i'd like to remember. maybe that, as a musician, it's my job to take those cultural things, and point out what's important, lay them in front of people (above all, remember the tune)...and then say, well, you can take it as meaning whatever you want; the civil war was one of the worst & hardest wars ever fought in these parts, brother killing brother, lots of betrayal and hard feeling, and if this song represents all that stuff to you, ok. it's just a song, and a very beautiful one at that. it's a song that a lot of fiddlers have set their talents to; it's not easy to play, i'd guess. i'll give it a shot, and let you know how it turns out.

the rain has turned much of the sizzling sidewalk into steam; the air is a bit fresher, though definitely like a sauna. there's a feeling of fall around though- steamy, yes, but a few leaves are falling in the distance; the trees have given up and are beginning to let go of the outermost leaves. traffic has changed; people have arrived who definitely weren't here a week or so ago. next thing you know, they'll paint the dawg paws out on the roads again, to let the students know what roads go to the university. the world will turn, just a bit, but southern illinois, as a region, won't change all that much. the bugs will kind of move over, to where the standing water is; it may not rain again until november, and by that time, it'll be a bit cooler.

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