Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chapter Three. "Fire in Cairo: Bothering the Ohio, Part I"

I’m not sure what began my obsession with the Ohio River, or when it began. Even when growing up in Louisville, I lived far on the outskirts in the Southern suburb of Fern Creek. I spent most of my adolescence nowhere near the actual river. Trips to the Highlands or even Downtown were not necessarily flanked by excursions to see the river. The overlook of the river called the Belvedere (way before the construction of the useable waterfront that exists today) was the closest I visited it, mostly for festivals or chow wagons. I think I went on a date there once in high school and gave my girlfriend a “promise ring” (isn’t that what they were called?).

Still, at some point, the Ohio River snuck up on me and I think about it constantly, especially since returning to Louisville in 2005. On my lunch breaks at work I often walk to look at the Ohio. I based an unpublished short story (“Also Southern”(now published here on this handy blog)) on the Ohio, briefly following a character’s trip West on the river.

The Ohio River is 981 miles long, starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and conjoining with the Mississippi River in Cairo, Illinois. It’s the biggest tributary of the Mississippi and considered the main stream of the whole river system. In the last five years I’ve had dreams of sailing the river in its entirety. This idea is also coupled with the fact that I’m a terrible sailor. In July 2011, I decided to follow a section of it by car and see some of its parts I had never experienced.

There is a marked path known as the Ohio River Scenic Byway that follows the river through all the states it touches, which include Illinois, Kentucke, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I based my path on this byway, which favors the northern side of the river (Kentucky does not seem to be represented at all in the official byway map). I have only followed the river West of Louisville to the Mississippi. I plan on documenting a trip East to Pennsylvania, next.

The following is my documentation of my first trip following, albeit not on it, to its end at the Mississippi. It was Enterprise’s rental car, but it sure as shit was my mission. (How can you not make “Apocalypse Now” or “Heart of Darkness” comparisons?; well, probably really easily, but for me, not so.)

I began hungover after seeing a Hayes Carll concert at Waterfront Park overlooking the Ohio with some friends visiting from Lexington. Determined, I set out late, and immediately got lost in Indiana, realizing my maps and directions were printed to take me East, toward the Ohio’s birthplace. After struggling to understand what the hell I had done, I reconsidered, came back home and re-planned until late at night. I started at 6:30 AM the next morning.
Every road trip has a soundtrack. Considering I put somewhere near 1,000 miles on my rental, I had several. But, it definitely all started with Bowie’s “Eight Line Poem.” I almost listened to it on repeat while leaving Louisville, heading North over the river into Indiana.

The byway finds much of its direction in Indiana from State Route 66. My first stop was Sulphur, Indiana, just breaching the Hoosier National Forest, where I would spit out from 64 West onto 66. Sulphur is a natural crossroads for entering the byway, and should be famous for housing the Ole Country Store. I entered Ole Country Store to load up on coffee, catch up on gossip and fishing news from the two ancient men in overalls sitting in the middle of the store, and to purchase the finest egg and sausage sandwich on a hamburger bun I have ever had.

These roads I had picked were all mostly state routes. You know the type: low or no shoulder; dips and curves, usually both at once; narrow; and corn. Every mile is either you as a driver completely isolated, or you as a driver being tailed by a large black 2011 pickup truck with a hemi (I still don’t know what that means) that is used to traveling these roads at 86 miles an hour, frustratingly trying to pass you in a no-passing zone. And the corn is everywhere. It reminded me of points brought out in Robert Kenner’s doc Food, Inc.: we are a nation using corn for everything. Corn is probably involved in the making of hemi’s, as well.

Indiana’s 66 follows the river through small towns and then smaller towns. I’ve been to small towns, but I’m not sure I’ve seen as many places with signs that read “population: 350” as I did on this trek.

It was in the unincorporated community of Derby that I finally caught back up with the Ohio. Seeing this as an opportunity to take my first shots of the river, I pulled off near a log cabin sitting on the river. It was near 8am. As I snapped some photos, a man in a green shirt was taking out the trash from the cabin and loading it onto the back of a golf cart.

“Hot one today. What cabin y’all stayin’ in?” He said, working.
“Just passin’ through,” I said. “Takin’ some pictures. Followin’ the river. I think I’m headed somewhere near Angel Mound?”
He threw a bag full of bottles onto the cart. “Shoo; you got a long way to go.” He hopped in his cart. “If I were you, son, I’d just stay here. Have a good one.”

I thought of those words several times on the trip. Maybe I should have just stayed in Derby.

Like many of the towns I passed through, Derby was a community that came into being because of the river. It offered travelers a place to rest, party, get supplies and maybe even eventually just stay. The Ohio also served as almost a dividing line between free and slave states, and many of the towns along its route served as important strategic points for regiments during the Civil War. Derby was no different. Some of these places became cities with industry, some remained small or declined into tiny communities that were sustained by tourism, agriculture and various industries, and the families that kept them afloat; some, as I was to see, did not die, but did not necessarily survive well, either.
Derby was just the beginning. I snaked through the routes, eventually stopping to see the Cannelton Locks and Dam, built in 1966. I can get not only overly excited about seeing the river, but at the same time the huge concrete and steel behemoths that were created on it. It’s all the reality of humans on the river over the centuries; it’s ugly and it’s beautiful.

Right before Cannelton I found the Lafayette Spring. The spring simply sits right off the road, looking like a giant rock with a rusted pump in front of it. I had not heard anything about it when researching and planning the trip. Lafayette refers to the major-general who served under George Washington during the American Revolution, as well as being one of the most respected military leaders from France. Yeah, I had to look some stuff up about him later, because, I have to admit: I’m a little rusty on my American Revolution history. Fellow Kentuckian/pal/writer/artist Jeffrey Scott Holland actually recently discussed Lafayette's US tour in an article at the KYForward site.

On a tour of America at the age of 68, Lafayette’s steamboat the Mechanic sank in the Ohio in May 1825 while he was on his way to Louisville. Being so revered, Lafayette and his crew set up camp at this spring, where he was visited by pioneers throughout the night coming to pay their respects to him. He caught a ride on a passing boat the next morning.
I hope the cigarette packs and bottles tucked back into the cliff’s cave where the spring bubbles don’t simply mean Lafayette’s stay is just used for making out and smoking some Marlboros in the 21st century. Then again, maybe Lafayette’s men did that, too, so they might be OK with that.

66 took me through Tell City, Maxville, Newtonville and Grandview, eventually splitting off the river at the city of Rockport, which housed something that looked frightening to coffee-bleeding eyes: the Rockport Hydroelectric Plant.

After overcoming confusion at my own directions to myself concerning the use of Yankeetown Road, I found myself at the Angel Mounds.

The Angel Mounds is a 450-acre archaeological site of a Middle Mississippian Native American village dating back to 1100 AD. “Mississippians” refers to a culture of Native Americans that covered the Southeastern US from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic. The mounds were man-made, built in a similar fashion to pyramids, and represent a village that housed a population of thousands of people, and was a political and religious center for communities that grew outwards from it for miles. Around 1450, they mysteriously all deserted the massive, powerful village. The biggest theory seems to be the land’s resources, after so many years of use, could not support the amount of people there. Depletion of resources: yeah, it’s a big deal.

I mean, I wonder if there were Mississippians who debated whether the timber was actually running low or if it was just a left-wing conspiracy theory? The other main line of thought was that the society dispersed because of a lack of confidence in its leadership. History constantly repeating.  
So now, people like me show up early in the morning to look at the mounds. 
Me, and an entire school bus of tiny children. I found myself in the lobby that led to the museum and eventual self-guided tour of the mounds. The confusing point that occurred to me was the lack of staff there to greet me or the kids and their teachers. In some comedy routine, I stood in a mixed-up crowd of what seemed like 1700 eight-year olds, all of us fidgety, scratching our heads, needing to use the bathroom, talking about the events of the day. 

We traded stories. After Susie and Bobbie told me about how Jenny fell and busted her knee but that she was a cry baby about it and that Mrs. Meade was a meany but sometimes she was nice like when she bought us ice cream that one time, and I asked them their theories on the debt ceiling debate in Washington and what they knew about Larry Brown. No, not the basketball player, I explained. Then Mrs. Meade told us all to be quiet and to get in line!
I excused myself to use the restroom. When I returned, it was eerily quiet; all my friends, even Susie and Bobbie, were gone. I was alone, and still saw no staff. I stood at the counter for another few minutes, and finally, walked into the museum, unpaid. 
The museum is a collection of exhibits explaining the societal structure and history of both the Mississippian culture and the Angel Mounds site. It was armed with wall paintings, interactive TV things, and eventually, as I gasped, a whole recreated version of the village made up of animatronic Mississippians that talked at you when you approached them. I had not gotten to experience anything like this since King’s Island train used to take you on a ride around the park (mostly to give the your parents some time to rest, get out of the sun and stop watching you wait in line to ride The Beast), stopping to watch animatronic settlers talk and shoot at each other with cotton smoke and nearly inaudible speeches. The strangest part of all of this was that I was completely alone having conversations with the leader of the Mississippians; it was a little bit of heaven for me, but eventually I figured I should find some staff, or otherwise be kicked out. The leader of the Mississippians agreed. 
I walked down another hallway and found the staff setting up models of toy classic cars in a room that looked to be decorated like a 1950s drive-in. I’m not sure, but I don’t think the Mississippians used 1950s classic cars. But I’m no Native American historian. Confused, I paid my four dollars and walked out onto the site.

The tour of the Angel Mounds is a grueling one if it is 112 degrees outside. There is absolutely no shade. You are basically told, “see that huge field; start walking; you’ll see stuff.” I feel like, if I had walked its entirety, I may have died, and no one would have ever known. Maybe I would have become part of the tour. “That was Brian; he was a seeker of adventure that met his demise while blazing old trails. We still have his blue t-shirt in our animatronic museum.” I would feel emblazoned on the heart of America if they constructed an animatronic version of me, explaining the perils of walking the tour with no water.

As you approached my robot self, I would suddenly light up, looking like I did the day I fell in the grass of the Mounds.
“Hello. My name was Brine. My car rental cost too much. I walked way out that way without properly hydrating. Don’t do drugs, kids.”

Maybe my arms would stiffly move and I would give a thumbs up and subdued smile. Much like I do in real life.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: the staff were friendly and helpful; I think I just caught them on a very busy, erratic day. And the Mounds are amazing; I felt honored to be on the same grounds as the Mississippians. I have a heavy interest in history, but my interest in American history in the last few years goes back to the cultures represented here, before Europeans showed up and, you know, started killing everyone. I have heard the joke that Europe has all the history. Africa, the Middle East and the Americas have more of the history, it just ain’t all white history. The society this place represented was mindblowing and I definitely felt reverence for what I got to see and touch.

Each mound represented different uses. I walked a circular path to climb and survey Mound A (pictured above), which was considered the site used by the religious/political leader of the community, as well as his family. Impressive stuff.

Although, I won’t lie: it looks like a giant hill covered in grass with a flat top. But, the Mississippians built these humongous mounds, then built their housing on top of them. The housing is all gone. Reconstructed versions of the housing are present, however:

As I stood on top of Mound A, I was able to survey a large portion of the rest of the village. I could see several other mounds in the far distance. Eleven in total. It was pretty humbling.

And then I felt dizzy and realized I was a mile away from the museum lobby, had no water, and had not eaten more than the egg and sausage hamburger from the Ole Country Store. And the heat was really beating.

There was no way I could walk to the other mounds.

I descended the steps to the bottom of Mound A and began shuffling my weak European-descended ass back to the museum. My feet dragged through fresh cut grass, raising brown clumps of straw that started sticking to the sweat I was frothing through my clothes. This Heat Wave Summer of 2011 is real fun. I had to turn and salute the Mississippians and compliment them on being more Men and Women than I could ever be.

I’m willing to admit the Angel Mounds kicked my ass.

I made it to the lobby, took a bath in their sink before limping to my rental, slipping onto North Pollack Avenue, and attempting to find the next segment of the trip, which would now switch to State Route 62, towards Evansville, Indiana. Soundtracks resumed.
to be continued...    

Chapter Two: "The Bubbling Gurgle"

An excerpt from a chapter of "Also Southern Tales."

The gurgle that emerged from the bow of the Gauteng could only be noted by Also as guttural; its noise entranced him with its sonic allusions to bubbles popping through mud. Also grabbed himself and approached the front of the ship, concerned; the sound slightly leaned toward that of a man gasping for air through the confines of that bubbling mud slogged down his throat, boasting an unsettling "quaaaaaaagle quaagle quagle" in efforts to alert any near by. He moved to the bow, his hands beginning to cover eyes that begged to remain cowardly despite the intentions of the rest of the working terrestrial and moving being to which they were attached. His feet allowed steps that grew slower, but as his ears heard further muddied queries, he removed his hands and studied the sight. All body parts breathed relief when their original assumptions proved correct. The bow glugged and spurted through the thick brown green waters, rummaging forward into the unknown.
               Also Southern, shoulders dropped in shame at the cowardice housed in his eyes, shuffled with disappointment back to his perch near the middle of the cabin of the Gauteng. The sound of bubbled mud continued and was expected. It was Spring here, and that brought ninety degree humid heat quickly. Steam nearly rose from the thick river, sometimes confused with mosquitoes and the visuals of hope.
            The boat's full name was the Gauteng MaryGrace, and how it came to have that moniker was a mystery to most, including Also, despite the fact that he had named her. He normally referred to her as simply the Gauteng for the sake of respiration, and normally did not refer to her at all, feeling her privacy was as important as his own, and that she would appreciate that concern. She was a narrowboat, uncommon in these waters, being a maiden who began her career in the canals of Southeastern England. She had a history that escaped him, and he dared not ask her, except on the latest of nights when the  crickets bored him. Her means of arriving on this river at this time were not within his ability to recall, either, nor was it within his graspable knowledge of how he had come by her. But, the fact was he had, and would remain by her side until they parted, which would be at a time they both deemed desirable and necessary. This understanding and acceptance sentenced the both of them to a contentment, albeit one lined in slight contorted confusions.
            The Gauteng MaryGrace was the most decent of narrowboats on the river, as far as the cowardly eyes of Also could manage to tell. This besides the notion that she may be the only British pleasure craft in this area of the world, but despite that distinction, her hull was one of chipped green and red paints, flaking into the river, and improving its colorful position in both of their opinions. Along the length of a cabin seemed depicted a scene involving a variety of gymnastic colors, accurately executing the necessary placements and structures to form a curious pattern of sun-stained artistry that had to denote, at one point in the Gauteng MaryGrace's history, a large cascade of roses creeping their ways into the stone might of an Irish castle. Also imagined the castle to be Irish, being his ancestry's heritage, and ignoring the origins of the ship's birth in England. The roses and the castle could be made glimpsed plain, simply, and unmistakably only by staring, Also found, at the side of the cabin well into the night while consuming cans and cans of warm, ugly beer, and only if that beer had been given for friendship's sake by a man anchored at a convenience market near the river some miles in the opposite direction after a rousing game of "I Spy" had been whittled into clear and predictable answers. Since these circumstances seemed only to present themselves once or twice in a man, woman, or ship's life, those roses and that castle remained, as it probably ought, elusive to other boaters and their ilk.
            The brown green river that the Gauteng plunged through was a sickened one, and one out of her experience, but one she managed well and decently, never capsizing, and barely leaking its mud water into her gypsy hull, which is much as a man commanding a ship can ask, especially one who was making his own maiden voyage, never having commandeered a vessel save a canoe once with a girl in an over-sized creek in his days at the university. She had done the rowing then, too, leaving him with absolutely no reliable experience navigating the seas such as this.
            This brown green river often stank of a hermit's breath, a solitary discount of sanitary care, it seemed. Also had cut the tiller in order to investigate the guttural gurglings of the bow, and had decided to let the boat drift forward down that river. That river and the Gauteng sometimes spoke, and Also knew that river's tongue, for he had grown up near, it although not on, it. And it was because of that river that Also's belly began to gyrate at the moment. He walked back to the stern, manned the tiller, and pointed straight.
            "Onward, Gauteng," he spoke quietly. "We stay West on the Ohio."
            It was then that Also remembered to verify the remains of the white octopus the Gauteng drug in its wake.

            Despite the growing hour, and Also's scorn of it, the sun still fettered his eyesight and contempted his skin. His clothing was gummed to his hide from sweat, and not the fresh water that laid streaming beneath and about him. The tiller of the Gauteng skipped through the waves freshly, with intermittent spits of smoke sulking from it occasionally. It had only the power to trot, but its gallop was enough to surge the narrow vessel forward through the Ohio's thick coat of muddied waters. It sometimes only simpered with a chucking noise, giving out periodical whines and wheezes. However, as the heat settled goatishly over the captain (though in an outright sort of fashion he never gave consideration to such a title, nor distance from his companion the ever-respectable narrowboat, believing the relationship to be based more in the arena that siblings find themselves) of the Gauteng and his thoughts of destination (which did seem distant), this evening it hummed a large bass rumble that seemed nearly overwhelming at times to Also. In certain humid moments, it seemed to outweigh the volume of other ships' horns as they blew at him in recognition, warning or annoyance. Their meanings were sometimes elusive and elsewhere to the ears of Also.
            The Ohio's banks and skies seemed birdless. One side Kentucky, one side Indiana. Traffic on the river was bluntly shallow, only a barge or pleasure boat barking by, most avoiding the colors of the Gauteng. Also cut the tiller, and perched himself against the cabin's wall, nestling in the moisture of the hot breeze. He stared to the East, and then the West, captioning the bridges that burdened his view of the horizon with thoughts of unease. There seemed an irking indecisiveness that hung in his mind, but it was one he was not willing to recognize or give credence.
            A transistor AM station diseased the plunk of the boat on the dead wakes as the Gauteng drifted simply forward, ever slightly, ever sighing its own irritations.  It was the "Love Theme from 'Superman'" cradling and being lost in the winds.
            The white octopus seemed safe, streaming from a line following the narrowboat, and Also checked its existence every so often, offering his condolences, and breathing in the neutrality of the indecisive notch that rendered the indifference bred between the travelers. Also knew where he was to take the creature, but it was his direction that had become sordid when communicating with his drive.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 1. "Bad Low: On Larry Brown and Billy Childish."


“The evening gloam was upon us. It was gloaming time. We would be Gloamriders in the Sky. He shut off the motor and got out a beer, stuck his arm back in and turned off the lights.”
-“Big Bad Love” Larry Brown, 1990.

It’s getting too late at night. It’s thundering, and not modestly. I have leaks in my ceilings and am expecting a waterfall in the living room as tonight’s summer storm has finally moved here to the Highlands. The heat these past two days doesn’t seem real but just barks and swallows you if you try to move in it.  The forecast doesn’t seem to see the oven air outside letting up. They were saying this Kentucky summer might be lessened with the downpours we had all spring, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Every day it’s advised you stay indoors or you’ll apparently die from exposure. The index was up near 112 today and expected to rise throughout the week. I’ve twisted the top off a Pabst despite the fact I need to get out of bed early and work a full day, at least. My taxidermied deer head fell off the door. Hopefully lightning won’t strike the house like it did six or seven years ago and fry this machine.
Seems like a good night to write about Larry Brown.

Although the lightning is getting pretty close.

I was first exposed to Larry Brown in 2002. Unfortunately, but neigh fortunately, I found him through the film “Big Bad Love” starring Arliss Howard and Debra Winger, directed by Howard, produced by Winger. A labor of love that really seemed to capture little attention, it was based on the stories and characters of Larry Brown’s work, especially the short “92 Days.”

[pause: I had to save and shut down ‘fore the lightning got too close. The sky was a disco ball and my living room ceiling led to my new swimming pool in the front half of the apartment. I also had to construct a scathing email for the landlord, asking him to politely let me out of the lease. Onward.]

The feel of the film and the ideas of the storylines led me to immediately check out his collection of the same name, “Big Bad Love.” From there, I was addicted, and have been since. Brown seems to be known to some rare readers that when encountered, surprise me. Most of them are addicts like myself, having discovered him through word of mouth. I can’t say seriously that there aren’t authors that don’t hook me like a catfish and splash me into submission like Brown does; but he has been without a doubt the most influential writer on my own prose since first touching the pages. In fact, maybe there hasn’t been an author that has meant as much to me in life. His style of writing can easily be described as gritty and harsh, but to me it brandishes such a realism and unadorned charm it haunts me not for days, and has for over a decade, now. I can’t get his words out of my head. My love for the Victorian era command of English prose has permeated my brain these last eight or so years, smushed with Nabokov’s bizarre English-as-a-second language poetry. And yes, there are others who have take the word and ground it into a real descriptive squash of boot. I mean, writers such as Childish, Bukowski and Kerouac can talk like people and still saw your head in half with their beauty. To me, Brown is the culmination of these artists. He doesn’t strive to be ugly; he paints what he sees and he knows how to use those words to such an effect, it baffles my brain. He writes mean characters that you love and shows hurt as a beauty. I would never say Brown is the only person to do this successfully; but in my book, I mean his books, he is the best at it.

I could gush over his style for pages and pages, but I’m trying to make my first entry for this blog not last seventeen chapters. I’m sure he is someone that I will re-approach here often.   I will spend a moment discussing his final effort, “A Miracle of Catfish.” 

Brown died suddenly in 2004, leaving “A Miracle of Catfish” unfinished. It was posthumously published by Algonquin Books in 2007. It has been described as rambling; to me, it’s mostly genius uncut. There are sections that remind me of his earlier books “The Rabbit Factory” and (my favorite) “Fay.” While HG Wells can systemically describe a scene of two bicyclists crossing the countryside with both poetry and social commentary, or Nabokov can play tricks with words and create a thickened but symmetrical painting of loners in twilight of tempting thought, bleeding every detail down to a perfect viscosity, Brown simply attacks the scenes and delivers straight thought as experienced by the characters. Through his loose reduction of mundane observance, he sinks small refinements of development and story into two pages of starting a tractor or grilling a steak. Maybe it takes having seen or heard or experienced some of his moments to really sink into the place, but I appreciate that dedication and that delivery. That repetition of thought that occurs in us all that creates schisms in the head and leads thoughts to thoughts.

“It didn’t rain. It didn’t rain and it didn’t rain and it didn’t rain and it didn’t rain. It didn’t rain a drop. It would not rain. It refused to rain. It didn’t rain in the morning, didn’t rain at lunch, and it sure as hell didn’t rain in the afternoon or evenings or at night. It didn’t rain at all. And that was just the first week…

Cortez got to going down the road some afternoons in his pickup to see if he could see come places where it rained. He thought maybe it might have rained near Serepta, so he rode down there to see. But it was dry down there, didn’t look like it had rained. He rode over toward Bruce to see if it had rained down there, but it hadn’t, so he turned and rode through Water Valley to see if it had rained there. It hadn’t. It hadn’t rained in Banner. Or Pine Flat. Or Delay. Or Paris. Or Potlockney. Or Spring Hill. Or Toccopola. Or Dogtown. All the roads and trees and grasses and yards and pastures were dry. There any mud puddles out in the cotton fields. He stopped his truck on the bridge over Yocona River to see how low the water was and it was low. Bad low…” (“Miracle,” 42-46)

Brown doesn’t pull back in his characters’ sense of sorting the world out. And none of what I’m bringing up even touches the aspects of the plot, but I am only acknowledging his style of conjuring the plot throughout. I can see the criticisms of rambling, but I believe in the rambling as path to an end. The characters, all of them – Cortez Sharp, Jimmy, Jimmy’s Daddy, Tommy, Lucinda, all of them – think like people who are perched in a swarm of both too much emotion and too much stress from the world’s they have either been born into or have created.  “Miracle” approaches the human spirit like animals figuring the world out one second at a time, and even approaches the animal world closely, much like Brown does in “The Rabbit Factory,” comparing animal thoughts and human thoughts. Like all of Brown’s works, its feeling smashed with life.

“Fish. Why did he think they were the answer? For a long time they had been. Fish were part of the real beauty of the natural world. It was good clean fun to fish. Kids could do it. Anybody could eat it. Even old folks. Some of his fondest memories were of fish fries at Uncle LaVert’s house back when he was a kid. Crisp hush puppies, fried golden brown, and fat cut potatoes that were fried in the same oil, and fish. Mounds of fish: bream, crappie, catfish, all crispy in browned meal, piled high on the plate. Wedges of lemon lying on the side. The cabbage slaw Aunt Addie made and kept in the icebox until time to eat so it would be good and cold.

He wished he could go back to that time and live there again. But that world was gone. He raised his head and looked around. Just like this one was about to be.” (“Miracle” 205)

“Miracle” hurts me. Like writing should hurt and aid. It’s a storm to sit through, and when it’s over, you’re glad and probably wet from the rain. And “Miracle” hurts me on a separate level, being it was Brown’s last work. To read the last thing a living author was writing that you worshipped…it’s a little too much.

So this leads me to Billy Childish. 

There are certain artists that can capture what I think of as The Simple Truths, or just the acute observations of life and render them to bleeding pulp. To wrestle things down the heart.  Larry Brown, obviously, I consider one of these souls. Again, you/I can invoke Bukowski. Hasil Adkins. There are many that can do this. Billy Childish stands on his own mound among them. 

Even if I was never swamped in his music as much as many of my friends, the few bits and pieces I might have heard over the last 15 or 20 years have sunk in so deep that I literally feel like I ripped him off. The rough heart-felt aesthetics he and Hasil and Brown lived/live by are definitely contributions to myself, my writing, my heart. As much as Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name,  Bukowski, Tom Waits, Man or Astroman?,  Coppola/Sheen’s Dillard and scores of others. Although I did not purchase my first Billy Childish vinyl until 2008, it was ingrained and instilled from various sources before and always. Once the Internet made music the way it is, I watched him. From before then I read other people’s books, listened to vinyl at other people’s parties, played and heard his records at the University of Kentucke’s WRFL-FM. When I first heard him in the early to mid90s, he was an artist I felt I did not need to rush into purchasing, because I immediately understood it so well, which is a strange feeling. I feel that way about certain artists, still to this day. My small collections mean as much as their entire catalog, to me.

I was recently lucky enough to perform in a Billy Childish cover band. His sound has an obvious overtone on mine. Fuck tuning; fuck everything but blood on copper strings and singing your soul out. Relearning these songs makes me realize how much I took from them when performing with JT Dockery in the Smacks!. And how much I put myself into what I took.  Being someone who plays music and puts his head into writing, Childish was a master at exactly how I felt to write and how I felt to play that I decided that worshipping him too much would be detrimental to my own identity. His harsh takes on life and love coincide with mine so much, I tend to often avoid him. It’s dropping the bomb and stealing too much of the lightning strike. Looking back, listening, I realize how much that, Jesus, this man burned my head up. There are many artists I can say this about. However, I’ve bought and immersed myself in their output. Childish: I sometimes avoid. He cuts too close. But it’s the same with Larry Brown. It’s odd to read or hear a writer or musician that sometimes speaks for you. And you get intimidated. Especially when they are so goddamn good at it.

Billy Childish and Larry Brown are artists that would probably frown on a blog. Me, I look at it in a paper way: I would be publishing, like I did in the late 1990s, cheap easy chapbooks to express. I prefer the paper way. But I can’t ignore the free cheap easy way to throw this shit out there online. Same principle.  And to hopefully throw others’ out there in some raw connection with other readers.

--Brine 072011.

Brown, Larry. "A Miracle of Catfish." (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007)