Friday, March 28, 2014

Wishing and Hoping

Having written a bunch of things in pencil in a library book while listening to Jaco Hamman speak at Belmont this morning, it occurred to me that I could transcribe what I wanted to while erasing away and simultaneously putting it all in a post. Here goes.
“Destroy the mental representations you carry about others,” he advised. He also asked for a show of hands of anyone who’s dating anybody or hoping to. This counsel is for everyone in every kind of relationship. You’ll have to regularly give up what you knew (or thought you knew) of the person you mean to love. Otherwise you’re relating to an image or an impression instead of regularly taking in the fact of a living person in process, well worthy of love.
And then a lengthy one from Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets: “What impairs our sight are habits of seeing as well as the mental concomitants of seeing. Our sight is suffused with knowing, instead of feeling painfully the lack of knowing what we see. The principle to be kept in mind is to know what we see rather than to see what we know.”
The possibility of knowing what we see (instead of merely seeing what we know) and remaining perpetually open to the fact that we don’t yet know what we’re looking at in a person, a painting, a story; that there’s always more to be revealed (seeing and thinking apocalyptically) is primarily accessed through…wait for it…hope which Jaco very helpfully contrasts with wishing. “Wishing knows exactly what it wants.” Wishing is what many of us are up to, habitually, most of the time, but hope is more radically alive to the bigger, unguessed picture, the unexpectedly true and beautiful ever around the corner, to whatever might awaken us to ourselves and each other, undoing our prematurely made-up minds. When we’re hopeful, we’re eager to repent of our woefully limited imaginations when it comes to other people and their infinite preciousness, complexity, and richness. All of this is a central theme—I’m guessing—in his book A Play-Full Life: Slowing Down, & Seeking Peace, which I’m about to bust open.
He ended with is favorite proverb. It’s African: “My friends who love me grow on me like moss.” He noted how moss has been valued for its healing properties by cultures throughout the world and contrasted this saying with a more popular one: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” With all due respect to Brothers Jagger & Richards, he challenged us to eschew the practice of rolling stones, in spite of its predominance in our speed-and-mobility crazy culture, and consider the virtues of slower, steadier, more deliberate relationships marked by hope and expectation.
Hope everybody has an enriching weekend.


Thursday, March 06, 2014

Everyday Apocalypse

"We are that strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting."
William Gibson

J. Todd Greene isn’t going anywhere. This can be a frustrating realization for those of us who occasionally catch ourselves grieving his relative unfamousness as if he’s missed some boat, as if he should’ve devoted more time over the last twenty-plus years chasing opportunities and generating interest. But it seems to me there’s no shoulding on Todd (and let’s all stop shoulding on ourselves). What there is is the gathering of intelligence, the sharing of what we’re seeing, the documenting of our  own insights, what we believe we’re being shown. This is what I take to be the good work we’re all called to, and Todd’s dedication in this direction, all day long and into the night, has been a constant inspiration to me. More often than not, some line or image he’s crafted is glowing at the edge of my thinking, taking me somewhere new and strange. There’s the twenty-three or so Bulb albums he shares with anyone who asks. And there’s the painting. Oh the painting.
I’m so dependent on my conversations with Todd that I forget that what he’s been up to might be news to others. One entry point is the PawPaw sermons. The short version: His great-grandfather was a southern minister and colleague of the similarly comported and way famouser folk artist, Howard Finster. Whereas Finster abandoned the pulpit to paint Coke bottles and plywood displayed outside his bicycle repair shop, eventually landing in exhibits around the world and on REM and Talking Heads album covers, Todd’s great-grandfather kept at it in spite of the fact that he never learned to read properly. In his sermon preparation, he pencilled images on cards as his wife read biblical passages aloud. Standing in front of his congregation, he’d consult the cards within an open Bible as he brought the good words to the gathered. In the late nineties, Todd’s mother presented him with a shoebox full of the cards.
What Todd did and does with his grandfather’s images (Todd knew him as Paw Paw) is one of the most inspiring things I’ve had the privilege of being near. Adding color, dimension, and intensity of expression to his inheritance, it has to be seen live to be properly experienced, and alongside so much else, it will be beginning this Friday evening March 7th at O'More College of Art and Design in Franklin. Remarkably, this marks Todd's first exhibit outside of Davidson County. He'll be there responding to questions and being awesome all evening. Come. On. Out. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our Carter Moody

I'd like to call your attention to the living fact of Carter Moody. In the final weeks of the 20th century, we met regularly in what came to be modestly referred to as Writing Group. Each week someone would drop upon the lot of us a few parameters involving a provocative starter-idea (Write a story involving time travel. Tell the tale of a lie. Recount a conversation without using dialogue), and we'd all set off for half an hour and return to share what we'd cooked up. Carter's offerings often left many of us in the dust, but his "You're doing it too!" delivery and the hopeful attentiveness with which he regarded our shots at creativity set a precedent for everyone in the circle of poetic intelligence gathering. He was intensely well-versed in the work of throwing lively words together and making sure we all felt invited--called even--to the process. What process? I think its literacy I'm talking about. As I view these things, my son Sam unwittingly channelled Carter recently when he observed aloud, "Literacy is about cooperating with people."
Over time, I realized Carter had been doing this sort of thing in Nashville for decades. He was there, ordering and stocking books on the subject of Apartheid in South Africa at the Downtown Public Library in the seventies and eighties. Around ever corner, he can be spotted giving the gift of his presence, time, and resources to countless under-advertised causes, artists, musicians, and local concerns. In recent years, you'll most likely find him at Bookman/Bookwoman on 21st Avenue, quietly mulling over a question a customer's put to him or tracking down a volume that might be just the the thing for the story-hungry pilgrim who's wandered in.
So while I'm pleased to have an excuse to recall a few of the ways Carter persists as a community pillar, an artisan of the possible in the Nashville scene, the occasion for doing so is the financial fix Carter finds himself in due to persistent health problems. He continues to devote his energy and his wit to all manner of good things, and he's especially keen to do so in the form of "perks" on the Indiegogo platform. But whether you decide to take him up on this offer or not, I'm honored to call your attention to one avenue for getting in on his act. Have a look. And thank you for doing so.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Montreat's Faith and Culture Project

A few more details on this week's Montreat College visit:
It's the 19th Annual Crossroads Faith and Culture Project, and it begins with a 10AM talk ("Weird Religious Background") on Monday morning in the Gaither Chapel. Monday evening at 7:30 is Sarah singing all by her lonesome, though I imagine I'll attempt harmonies on at least one tune ("We See Satan Fall Like Lightning," probably), in Gaither Fellowship Hall. Tuesday night in the same venue is me with more speechifying ("Don't Believe Everything That You Breathe"). And the 10AM on Wednesday, back in the chapel, sees Sarah and myself wrapping it all up to the best of our powers ("Insert Soul Here").
We'll be awfully pleased to see, converse with, and perhaps even touch friends old and new. Anyone within easy driving distance who doesn't make it to any of these is invited to enter into a brief season of alternating shame and loss. But seriously, why wouldn't you make the trek? What are up to with your one precious life? We are a beginning.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Our Song and Dance

I have a number of items to bring to your awareness. I take the liberty of including myself in the above photo seeing as I'm personally involved in one of them. For this, we thank Anne McCarthy, our very own Anton Corbijn. Except Better.
To begin, there's the matter of THIS EVENING. Sarah's performing (along with Sandra McCracken, Katy Bowser, Joy Ike, Steve Guthrie, Ruth Naomi Floyd, Bethany Brooks) at Belmont tonight to celebrate the release of It Was Good, a collection of essays on God and music-making authored by Ned Bustard and all kinds of people we hold near and dear. It's completely free, and the details are here.
I also invite you to explore the implications of the fact that Sarah and I are bringing our song and dance to the Asheville area next week. Two and a half days of goodness at Montreat College. No admission fee. We'd love to have you in on the conversation.
AND IN NOVEMBER, Sarah joins Ashley Cleveland, Sherry Cothran, and Cindy Morgan for what they're referring to as GIRL'S NIGHT OUT.
There are more us-related events on the horizon, but for now, I give you Sarah's two-part Image Journal interview. Here and here. We thank Angela Carlson for being awesome as usual.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Concerning Beaver Nelson

Via the joys of Laity Lodge, I've had the deep pleasure of coming to know Beaver Nelson in recent years. When we first got to talking, it was as if a few close friends had taken the time to compile a few of our rarer enthusiasms (Evelyn Underhill and Walt Simonson's Beta Ray Bill, for instance) just to see what we would do when confronted with someone with whom we shared one weird delight after another. After a quick succession of "Me too" clicks involving Townes Van Zandt, John Byrne, and Cormac McCarthy, I realized I'd met someone who'd probably enjoy Todd Greene's envisioning of the chorus to Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" inexplicably and suddenly sung to the tune of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road." Beaver laughed hard and took a moment to describe what he imagined Earle might do to me if I ever attempted such a thing in his presence.
This was all before I heard him sing and began to take in his complete works, a very present help in my hand-in-face days of bringing my dissertation to relative completion. The songs are all lyrical shots at hoped-for-coherence, somehow simultaneously disarmingly funny and self-deprecatingly moving. They let the air in unexpectedly. You don't see it coming.
After years of telephone conversations on the subjects of Steve Ditko, Elvis Costello, Magneto, and the self-understanding of Jesus, we've finally arranged an evening, THIS SUNDAY, when Beaver will bring his song and dance to our backyard. I invite any and everyone in range to come around. Consider bringing a little food or beverage you'd be willing to share along, maybe a lawn-chair or a blanket, and perhaps a little something to put into a tip jar. But if the thought of any such items serves to dissuade, wipe it from your mind. We've got you covered.
Reach me by e-mail OR hit me on the book of faces for details.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Sarah's kind of going for it again. Not that she ever stopped. When I think about the pace with which she writes and sings and how it's only rarely accompanied by anything in the way of a signal flare, I recall a time when Prince, several albums back, decided to do a press conference. Someone asked him if his latest effort was a comeback album. "Comeback from what?" he offered back with a tired smile. It's not his problem that a few million folk haven't checked back in since Sign o' the Times. Who wants to live like that? Next question.
Sarah isn't listening to her own life if she isn't writing songs. It's how she pays attention to herself and others. I labor over sentences and it takes me a sometimes embarrassingly long time. She disappears into an oversized closet and emerges with something completely remarkable an hour or two later. Sometimes she's already recorded it.
This has been our life together all along with the significant change being the recorded part. Many a kind heart will ask her if she's still making music. "Yes!" my mind screams as I remind myself that I wasn't the one who was asked the question. Her responses vary. She'll mention Bulb, but not everyone is shrewd or curious enough to ask for the elaboration that would take them into that magical, soul-enriching world. She'd likely share a song--I mean sing it--right there on the spot if someone was to ask her to and she knew they really wanted to sit still for it, but very few people seem to do that these days. How's this supposed to work for someone who generally resides to the side of the star-maker machinery behind the popular songs?
Enter JT Daly. I met him at the Trash Humpers premiere at the Belcourt through our mutual friend Chris York. He started hanging around our domicile, introducing us to music, coming to softball games, eating pizza, and building Legos. "What does Sarah need?" he got to thinking. And Wendell Berry-like, communally-minded fellow that he is, he began to assemble microphones and speakers and other hardware from friends who weren't, for the time being, using certain forms of recording equipment to cobble together what we've elected to call Twin Pop Studio. It's sitting there right now. Minus speakers at the moment.
So now we have songs, many songs, and they're beginning to surface. The opening salvo is The Trying Mark which comes to you via a couple of very kind collaborators. The first is Aaron Roche by whose music we've been amazed and nurtured since we first heard him do an Innocence Mission cover in the artists' space at DPC many moons ago (Sarah: "!Blur My Eyes really does soothe the savage beast in me."). He's in Brooklyn being awesome now, but he made time to mix the album and provide additional instrumentation and vocals. And there's also the matter of Matt Odmark. Sarah opened for the league of extraordinary gentlemen that is the Jars of Clay operation, Matt's decades-long gig, way back in the 20th century, and something came full circle when Matt offered his powers of mastering to The Trying Mark. We're intensely pleased with how it all turned out. And relatedly, I'll mention too that the above image is the work of Beth Gilmore with whom Sarah is conspiring together on something or other on many a weekday. This and many more can be viewed and procured over here.
Even as I busy myself writing about it, tweeting, playing it for students, or foisting mix CD's and playlists upon people, I still don't know the best way to urge the goodness upon people. I wouldn't remove a song or change the order, but if you were tell me you're only willing to sit quietly long enough to take in one song on the album (That would be kind of mean, by the way), I would refer you to "When Things Fall Apart" and trust that you might now feel compelled to take in the whole thing. And if you wanted to drop in a little something to maintain the current of the Get Fresh Flow...I think that'd be appropriate.
That's about it. Sarah has a few specific words concerning the project's origins as well. Do please tell us what you think and talk it up as you see fit. Despite the risk of saturating the market, Sarah's playing a few shows in the weeks to come, and there's more music on the horizon. Stay tuned.