“The Poor Live in Two Places.” by Bill Mallonee
These are liner notes for the download album, “Hard~Scrabble Dreams”
Dear Folks & Friends,
This album was inspired by 3 sources.
One was John Steinbeck’s eloquent, near eternal work, “The Grapes of Wrath.” The characters & spirit of the fictional Tom Joad still serves as a spark to the conscience and a beacon of justice to us.
“Money doesn’t talk…it swears,” the old saying goes.
Steinbeck’s character’s continue to live and move and “be” as a witnesses of what it’s like to be “grist for the mill,” casts off of the “America for some but not for all” mentality that was finding parley among corporate rich, and the new emerging rich in pre-war America, as well.
Steinbeck’s characters are the flotsam & jetsam of q new greed driving pre-war America. a greed that seems intent on getting as much as possible as fast as possible. (The new priests of such a philosophy live loud and large in our ow time.)
Part of the genius in Steinbek’s telling of the tale of the Joad’s migration to California from dust bowl Oklahoma, lies in his ability to poetically alternate between the macro-cosm of the greed of emerging agribusiness, and the microcosm; The micro-cosm is viscerally characterized by that havoc of soul that is caused Joads by the short-view/greed driven practices of banks, lending companies, entrepreneurs, & agri-busniess.)
The second inspiration for this album came in the form of a gift from Muriah, a photographic essay, called, “Bound For Glory” (America In Color 1938-1943); it is the story of the field photographers sent out by The Farm Security Administration (later the Office of War Information) into parts of the country devastated by the Great Depression. Their job was to record and capture on Kodachrome film lives of Americans on Eastman-Kodaks new film. Their images of “just plain Americans,” I believe, are some of the most heroic and inspiring you’ll ever see.
This book is their arresting testimonial.
The most enduring, and precious inspiration off the three was a gift as well:
It was a gift from the American people.
It came (and still comes) from the folks I’ve played for over these past 25 years. This land & it’s great people have always been the frame of reference of my work, from the day I first crawled into an rattle-trap van to do my first US tour in 1991.
They, and their stories and lives, have been inspiring me ever since.
I cant escape it, nor would I wish to…
As a rambling songwriter/troubadour, it has been my privilege to meet & converse with folks from all walks of life; to ‘get inside their skin,” hear their stories, their hopes & dreams, their disappointments and griefs. There is no class room or instructional video that could have provided me with such clarity.
It is always, always a humbling gift. You feel small and clean at the same time.
What do you do? What can one say, when they realize that their own story, pales in comparison with the crosses these “salt-of-the-earth” folks have born?
I’ve been made privy to their stories, their dreams, their struggles and their grief.
Being a songwriter who prefers house shows and other venues where it’s “up-close-&-personal,” all of these exchanges come “with the territory.”
My audience is often the poor in spirit, the disheartened and disenfranchised.
Sure, I played my shows.
I try and give 110%.
I always hope it’s enough.
But, I also “took notes.”
I learned much by observation & reflection. You learn about terms like “systemic evil,” and “good-old-boy” clubs.
I learned that the economic systems that glorify the independent, aggressive and savvy “virtues” of the American businessman often fail to mention that every successful empire builds it’s wealth and power and prestige on the backs of the poor, the meek, the less privileged.
And (just like all the books I loved as a youth testified to) something else surfaced almost daily: Among the poor, there was a faith, a heroism, a determined-ness and a day-to-day “true grit” that seemed like a grace from God present in their lives & sirits.
Rarely did they complain.
Rarely did they “give up.”
And always they seemed to love each other and find something good in everyone.
They were often saints or saints in the making…
And so here’s the kicker:
The “poor” live in two places: The first place isn’t hard to miss: In every ghetto, on every “poor side of town,” on every “wrong side of the track,” you’ll find them. The poor are all around us. Even Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you…”
But the poor also live inside of us. We are them.
They are many things, but in the face of their joy & heroism, they are always a reminder that a man is not the measure of his possessions. They remind us that it is not by our own hands that we attain or succeed in this world (as much as we’d like to believe otherwise.)
Indeed, they remind us that our souls are not so full and that our spirits are not so at peace. Those things (our precious souls & our spirits) daily need nurture, a kind word, and grace. We must become adept at sorting out the fools gold from the real treasures.
We desperately need such grace…
Even if it’s the grace we must extend to ourselves.
The poor remind us that it is still a world of grave injustice and a world where there is so much yet to be done. So many wounds to bind up, so many broken thing to be set straight. Would that God would grant us all grace begin to hear their cries more clearly and respond with our hearts and hands.
Would to God that we could get about making a new and better world.
Often the “poor”are already “on the way.”
For them life is a crucible. One to negotiate with grace, sensitivity and realism.
Often, not a world they chose, but (for whatever reasons) one handed to them.
It is one in which they have frequently begun to manifest those curious attributes of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.” Everything that makes us truly human. Everything that brings forth (to quote President Lincoln) “the better angels of our natures.”
These are things they can’t teach or compel in schools.
Things learned in the hard scrabble of life.
tags: Americana, Indie-Rock, Singer-songwriter, Folk songs
Protest Songs, High & Lonesome, Babe., Faith & Justice Songs, Open Road, Faith Songs, Big Sky; Mercy,