Month: June 2020

Saturday Soundtrack: Muriel Anderson

Composer, fingerstyle guitarist, and harp guitarist extraordinarie Muriel Anderson celebrated a major birthday earlier this month with a live birthday party / concert…and it was a blast! Along with hundreds of other fans listening to the event, I heard wonderful music, had a tour of Muriel and partner Bryan Allen’s Long Island summer home, and watched the guest of honor open presents. Muriel is one of my guitar heroes, and I’ve written about her work several times in the past. Like here. And here, when I tell the world that I’m in love. And here, when I tell the story of sitting in the baggage claim area at BWI airport so I could here her play a brief concert. And one of my posts with the most views — Be Present When Serendipity Strikes — was about finally waking up on a flight home from Nashville one summer evening, only to realize that I was sitting next to Muriel and Bryan. From that point on, it was a magical flight. I had hopes of hearing …

Rutherford County Courthouse

Places and perspectives

Are you afraid? It was an era when those protesting for civil rights had moved from nonviolent techniques to more confrontational stances, and the nightly news carried stories and photos of clashes in cities across the country between the police and protesters. The tribal nature of our communities was coming into focus for everyone to see. While we lived on Main Street, our neighborhood was mixed both economically and racially. And here I was, playing pickup basketball on a local court, when a player on the opposing team asked me that question. He wanted me to acknowledge that I was the only person scuffling around on the asphalt, shooting at hoops with torn nets and battered backboards, who was not African American. The question insinuated that I should feel out of place and uncomfortable and was followed by another: Don’t you feel scared? Playing on the local courts as a young teenager with whatever group of neighborhood kids came along was just what I did. “No,” I replied. I knew most of these guys, and …

Lift Every Voice and Sing

In honor of Juneteenth (+ 1), I want to use my Saturday Soundtrack post to celebrate the song known as the “Black National Anthem” — none other than the soul-stirring Lift Every Voice and Sing. With words by James Weldon Johnson and music by his brother John, Lift Every Voice and Sing was written at the turn of the 20th century, a time when Jim Crow laws were beginning to take hold across the South and Blacks were looking for an identity. In a way that was both gloriously uplifting and starkly realistic, it spoke to the history of the dark journey of African Americans. “It allows us to acknowledge all of the brutalities and inhumanities and dispossession that came with enslavement, that came with Jim Crow, that comes still today with disenfranchisement, police brutality, dispossession of education and resources,” Shana Redmond — author of Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora — says. “It continues to announce that we see this brighter future, that we believe that something will …

Finding your potential: Aging in a time of turmoil

I recently dove into two books on aging. It wasn’t because I felt old, aged, infirmed, or any of those descriptors we often use when talking about the elderly. However, I can read a calendar, and I recognize that I can’t claim to be middle age when no one lives to be 130 years old.* My study began just as the global pandemic struck, with the coronavirus focusing so much of its potency on the vulnerable and those 60 years of age and older. I finished the second book as the nation roiled from both the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and the injustice that was highlighted in the grotesque and brutal deaths of black men, women, and children at the hands of the police. Whether I liked it or not, I was forced to think about aging in a time of turmoil. Talk about your inauspicious timing. In light of current events, I quipped to some friends that these book choices could be interpreted as: a sign of naiveté, a sign of …

Sturgill Simpson on my mind

Sturgill Simpson is the hard-to-classify, but always intriguing singer and songwriter who sounds like Waylon Jennings or Merle Haggard (take your choice, as both were great singers); writes about topics not often heard on contemporary country radio; has outspoken progressive politics sure to rub many country music fans the wrong way; and who has a gift for surprise…as you’ll find at the end of this Saturday Soundtrack post. (Bluegrass fans who can’t wait should just jump there first!) A native of Kentucky, the son of a secretary and a Kentucky State Trooper, Simpson is the first male on his mother’s side of the family to not work in a strip mine or deep mine. Nonetheless, that blue collar, hard working sensibility comes through with every song he writes and every note he sings. He is a Navy veteran who speaks up in his songs and in interviews about the dangers of the military industrial complex. In a famous Facebook Live post outside the 2017 Country Music Association awards show, Simpson said, “Nobody needs a machine …

Listen, learn, love…and act.

This past week the nation reached an important inflection point in our 400-year-old history with race and racism. The horrific murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he was lying face down handcuffed on the street, touched off nationwide protests and confrontations with the police and the Trump administration. The photo showing Chauvin on Floyd’s neck while casually looking away, hand in his pocket, hit like a punch in the country’s collective gut. Pictures can both reflect and change history. The iconic May 1963 photographs of Bull Connor’s police dogs and officers with fire hoses attacking peaceful protesters in Birmingham depicted savage assaults that, in civil rights historian Taylor Branch’s words, “struck like lightning in the American mind.” The 1968 photos of sanitation workers, with their “I Am A Man” signs, remind us of why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis on that fateful April day. While I have no idea if …

Music for troubled times: The old songs

I’ve found myself drawn to several musical performances online this week during our troubled times. Most are covers — where musicians perform works by other musicians — and while the date of the originals range across centuries, most of the versions that have touched me were recently recorded. While some are instrumentals, knowing the lyrics to the songs has given me a context to hear the music in new ways. I want to share with you a few of my favorites from this music for troubled times. “We’re not doing my original songs,” Rhiannon Giddens says in her recent NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, before she and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, launch into an old spiritual, “’cause with these kinds of emotions, the old songs say it best.” The set list for the 20 minute mini-concert, filmed at Turrisi’s home in Ireland in late May, goes back to “the origins” as Giddens says, and includes Black As Crow, Spiritual, and the tune set Carolina Gals / Last Chance. While all are wonderful, the haunting vocals and …