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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Back Home.

May 28, 2017 § 4 Comments

For me, songwriting usually begins as a back-and-forth with my guitar. Noodling around, I find a loose thread of melody and give it a tug to see if a song is attached.

Then a bit of lyric comes, the melody choosing the subject it will take for a ride. Little by little, the song reveals itself. The message of the song may be powerful, emotional, but the process isn’t. It is the equivalent of doodling, or casting a line into dark waters to see if anything bites.

But once in a great while a song wells up. It pours out as if from a reservoir I didn’t know I was carrying. This uncontrolled outpouring is always triggered by an emotional disturbance so profound it overwhelms the logical it’s-okay side of my brain.

Back Home is that kind of song. (The title is the link to the video).

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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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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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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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Plays well with others.

December 22, 2013 § 6 Comments

Mom_and_Dad_in_ItalyI am working on a song.

It began with a short stretch of melody, and a memory of my father:

The old man cried, because he dreamed of her, and she dreams of him, on the other shore.

 Missing my mother, who he outlived by more than eleven years, was a daily burden my dad picked up and carried.

Together they had perfected a dance that required both to have any grace.

Although he went on, the collaboration that had been his life was over.

We are defined by the things we create together. In the case of a long marriage we create a life.

Like my parents, my husband and I have collaborated to build something unique and enduring, flexible and accomodating—and joyous.

Joy is one of the characteristics of collaboration, which is lucky since we humans are born collaborators.

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Standing down.

April 6, 2013 § 12 Comments

American flag.It was cold inside the tent at the fairgrounds, and he sat, hunched in a folding chair, wearing a baseball cap under the hood of his jacket.

As “Hot Tamale” Craig Reeder and I were there to play for any kids who had come along to the “Stand Down.”

There was music on other stages as well, but the music was just the feel-good part of an effort to give homeless veterans three nights of shelter, medical screening, a few hot meals.

Only one kid wandered into our tent, the rest were adults, which included the man who sat three vacant chairs away from the others.

Instead of the Hokey Pokey we played Hank Williams, Everly Brothers—covers from back in the day.

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