Busker’s Lament.

July 16, 2017 § 2 Comments

Buskers, those street musicians wearing tragic hats and faded jeans, are the filter feeders of the music world, gleaning pocket change and an equivalent amount of attention from a busy, going-somewhere audience.

The signals that let listeners know, “Hey, this is a big act! These guys are hot!” are absent.

No band bus.

No stage.

No entourage.

Just a guitar, a shaker or two and that gaping guitar case, begging for the recognition of loose change, and the occasional buck that has to be kept from blowing away.

It’s a hunger that will never be filled.

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July 18, 2016 § 4 Comments

IMG_0850It’s not that I am ready to die.

Or even to be old.

But I accept that there is a certain fairness to both these outcomes.

I have had a wealth of days, and far more than my share of kindness and lucky breaks.

As a kid I had the luxury of believing all families were loving and durable and did their darndest to protect, teach, and give a child an advantageous start. « Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie gonna dance.

July 25, 2015 § 7 Comments


Most of the songs I write begin on the drive home from practice with Craig Reeder, the other half of Hot Tamale.

After singing for three or four hours, it takes a while to go back to not singing.

I clutch the wheel, singing randomly, but with great intensity. Sometimes I find a loop of melody. If I pull on that short thread I often discover it is attached to a song.

Jackie is the name of one of my library kids. Driving home the name just fit that moment’s little bit of found melody…Jackie gonna dance all night long.

But the picture in my mind was of an old man dancing in a neighborhood bar, the kind where everyone knows everyone and the jukebox plays.

An old guy dancing? This is going to be a silly song, I thought.

Silly is one of my two general songwriting categories.

The other is Serious, as in heartbreaking, life-affirming, truth-revealing.

I gave Jackie lots of traits selected off the silly pile, but as the song took shape I realized this was a serious song dressed in silly clothes.

Jackie is an old guy, old to the point of being humorous, even pitiful to anyone watching him dance. He is also brave, alive, and persistent–traits worth hanging onto even if it means losing his dignity in the shuffle.

When I sang Jackie to Craig he said it sounded not too bad as a poem. So here it is, stripped of melody, one improbable dancer who, despite significant losses refuses to be written out of life.

 Read it aloud like you have a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. Do not use your fancy Poetry voice.

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Songs from farther down the road.

January 17, 2015 § 6 Comments

Sunnyland CD front.

Slow Dance Journal is a Sunday publication.


I’m posting this week’s edition today, Saturday, before I hunt down the ironing board to press the silk dress bought at Goodwill.

Before I drop the guitar strap over my head and tune up one last time.

Before I look out across the What? Cafe’s motley assortment of chairs, probably all acquired at the same place as my dress, and see whether friendship and Craig’s shameless promotion have brought out an audience for the launch of our first-ever professionally recorded CD.

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Following the light.

September 27, 2014 § 4 Comments

Sunflowers in Maine.Watch a field of sunflowers.

Like an audience, the flowers turn, tracking the progress of the sun across the sky.

Heliotropic, sunflowers always follow the light.

Once, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I saw dozens of ravens, each in the top of a tall pine.

All faced into the storm, oriented to ride the whip of that wind.

Like the sunflower, like the raven, each of us seeks a direction to face that makes our lives possible.

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The Dead Turtle Song.

August 17, 2014 § 4 Comments

Eastern Box Turtle.I was out for my morning walk.

Maybe the turtle, tipped awkwardly up against the telephone pole, had been doing the same.

Spun off the road, shell smashed, it was very dead.

It had done everything it could to survive its encounter with a tire. Head and legs were pulled inside its protective shell, a defense that would have worked against almost anything in the natural world.

I looked in and saw the turtle’s face, the closed eyes. Heart broken, I wanted to apologize for my whole careless species.

But my day went on. I ate breakfast and edited someone’s story, then went to practice. Craig and I played our usual four hours or so and I drove home.

It is very hard to turn the music off after practice and almost every song I write begins in that fifteen minute drive. As I rolled past Wal-Mart on Capitol Circle the turtle came back with a snippet of tune.

Dead turtle lying in the middle of the road, thought he’d get across but he moved too slow.

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The Project (with a capital P).

August 9, 2014 § 6 Comments

The Lady and the Unicorn.

The Lady and the Unicorn.

I remember my mother sitting on the couch, night after night.

Between glances at the TV show the rest of us were watching intently she did needle point, stitching reproductions of motifs from the medieval Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

Stitch after stitch, sitcom after sitcom, she worked.

When all six labor-intensive pieces of needlework were done, my grandfather stretched them, painstakingly, over the chair seats at our dining room table—then covered them with plastic, which took away a little of that Medieval quality.

But he had seen the work that had gone into giving us something to sit on that would ennoble the usual beef and mashed potatoes of Sunday dinner.

My mother’s needlepoint had some of the qualities of a Project: it required time and dedication, but some of the essentials were missing.

A Project worthy of that capital P involves the risk of failure–often spectacular failure.

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Write some. Live some.

June 7, 2014 § 11 Comments

Cass, peeking through the knothole in the fence in the stage version of "Crossing Jordan."

Cass, peeking through the knothole in the fence in the stage version of “Crossing Jordan.”

In 1998—a lifetime ago—I began writing a book called “Crossing Jordan.”

It was my third novel, and I was still finding my feet as a writer.

I am almost always spurred to write a story by some small, random incident that would otherwise be quickly forgotten.


In this case it was a conversation with the girl next door who said her family was about to move because there were getting to be too many black people in our neighborhood.

As soon as the door closed behind her, I sat down and began to write.

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The Florida Folk Festival: future perfect.

May 22, 2014 § 9 Comments

Turned out, four times was the charm.

Craig and I (Hot Tamale) finally made it into the Florida Folk Festival. Through three years of rejection we imagined what it would be like–imagined and hankered.

Tomorrow it will become real. But until we roll into Stephen Foster State Park, our guitars in the back, the Florida Folk Festival will be…


three hazy humid days of old guys in plaid shirts picking with calloused fingers.

Young up-and-comers playing impossibly hot licks.

Banjos ringing, dulcimers thrumming.

The clack of spoons and bones.

Voices will breathe life into songs that traveled in steerage across the Atlantic, or wandered south from Appalachia along unpaved roads, and songs that were born in slave cabins accompanied on a washboard that still served its original purpose.

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Regaining my amateur status.

April 26, 2014 § 5 Comments

In my early days as a children’s book author I was so constantly on the road I could identify which chain hotel I was in by the wall paper pattern.

At first that life felt glamorous.

I was the traveling circus that pulled into town and when I walked into a school auditorium, classroom or library and stood beneath the Welcome Author Adrian Fogelin! banner and told my stories, everyone leaned forward in their chairs.

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