To be perfectly honest, sometimes I wish I could cancel the weekend ahead of me of shows and stay home, stay in fleecy sweats, cook and read the Sunday New York Times (my favorite thing to linger over for hours) and share the couch with June. I'm not complaining. Everybody dreads work. I bet the Pope dreads Mondays (well, lately, I'm sure more than ever before). But isn't it odd and wonderful that when you just show up, the nagging, naysaying critic yammering in your head and all, the beautiful and the unexpected happens.
For example. Elba, Alabama. Where the hell is Elba? I'm not even sure. I just followed Linda, my GPS guide and 6 hours south of Nashville, I was driving along bucolic windy country roads, through "front porch" towns--2 blocks in length with stores strung together in rotting wood porches and flat fronted signpost roofhats. I expected to see someone on a rocking chair with a harmonica. A place you feel like is stuck in the dustbowl era -- and almost missed Elba, the size of a postage stamp. These are the places you drive into as a folk singer and you think 'uh oh...this MUST be a mistake.' How could this deep southern town with dusty empty streets and an apothecary and apocalyptic billboards hold even 30 folk music fans? Someone must have made a mistake. The thing is, as I've learned while writing my song "Manila Street", its not just beauty that hides in the shadows. You can never judge a town by its billboards. Here in this sleepy small town lurks a host of music fans who can sing along to Jean Ritchie and John Stewart songs and who will work to get state funding to allow a troup of 6th graders to sit in the front row to a concert that doesn't include a former American Idol alumni. There's decent mexican food and a bed & breakfast with a wide front porch populated by whitewashed rocking chairs, ripe for the late night decompression. I met some amazing folks in Elba, AL, people who live there, people who were visiting. I talked to a man about the importance of clean water and water purification, a basic right and one that becomes increasingly scarce in this season of hurricanes and earthquakes. I felt like there was something at work beyond just a paycheck and a 2 set gig.
I woke the next morning and shared weak coffee and grits with a bunch of these folks who have a more wicked and droll sense of humor than even the British, twisted and honest and sharp, but with an accent thicker than sourghum. Filled with food painted by the same swath of the colorwheel, I pointed my van north to Montgomery, heading to Hank Williams' grave, to pay homage. Driving through these small roads lined with waving tall grasses and bending pines, drooping crimson clover and bright flourescent yellow flowers that dotted the grasses, I felt this wave of the River. The flow. My friend Rebecca would say I felt in my bliss. I guess that's right, but my skin tingles at crystal-talk. But yes, ok. I felt bliss. The sweet spot of the sun. I felt love. I felt life. I felt warm. The sun was out. I was doing what I loved so much. I was alone, driving, listening to a really interesting 11 CD volume book on CD on Abraham Lincoln, and sometimes stopping to listen to the same Joe Pug song over and over because I love it so much. But I was in a flow.
I found myself in front of Hank Williams' grave in this small cemetary in a rundown neighborhood of Montgomery. Two tall rectangles of slate carved with Aubrey on one and Hank on the other. Carvings of western wear: boots and hats. Someone or ones had left empty bottles of rye and whiskey and tequila. Plastic flowers stood in a vase. I sat on a bench in the 80 degree April sun and thought of lyrics to songs I know. I pondered the brevity of his life. How is it possible that he only lived 30 years with that body of work that still exists. My friend Jon calls it writing "copyrights", as in "don't write for what's on the radio today. Write a copyright." Write something that lasts long after your death. Like Hank. To be perfectly honest, I never feel anything at all at gravesites. My favorite person in my life so far was my grandmother Roro and I stood at her gravesite and felt cold. Nothing. She wasn't there. It was just theater, this visitation. So why would I feel different at a stranger's. No different. I just felt obliged to stop by and somehow nod at the grave. Acknowledge it and him and his importance and that time passes and we pass and we dissolve and in the flow of the river we pass those who have gone before us and its just respectful to nod, even if there are no tears.
Last night I played a small show in the mountains in Georgia and it was an unexpected delight. A bit chaotic, as it was being broadcast on the internet, live chat along with my set along with the small crowd who were physically there. Again, it was one of those situations where I thought it was going to be a possible disaster, but in the chaos, there was beauty and truth and it all came together as it should have come together and I felt, again, dipped in the flow. I made a mention of my Uncle Will, who passed away a year ago. Who I miss. Some days with a real strength. Wishing I'd had more conversations with him, the wise one, the quiet one, the one of truth and integrity and peace. I said that I wasn't sure I believed in heaven. The truth is, I don't believe in heaven nor hell. Its all just here and we recycle or we don't or I'll never know but I doubt I'll go into the clouds of the great beyond and meet anyone from this lifetime. I said, If I come back as an insect, please let me come back as a dragonfly. It was off the cuff. But writing this, reflecting on happenstance and opening up to what might be and then being offered what is, darting in and out vertically and horizontally of the flow of life and love and emptiness and chaos, greatness and smallness, there's something to be said about the brief life of a dragonfly, watergills then bursting through a shell to breath air for a brief few months. That sweet spot? There was nothing extraordinary in my weekend. But something lifted my head up, as if to say, 'pay attention' and I did and I was blessed with meeting love and stories and passion and mission and music and nature and history and soil. Like that insect, the flying pattern is quite erratic, turbulent and brief but in its small smallness, extraordinary.