FOREST FULL of WOLVES

FFWFrontCover CHRIS TAYLOR 2Liner notes.
Anybody remember those?
I write them like my life depended on it. I have quite a few essays & installments at the bandcamp site on many an album.
And I’ve re-posted them wordpress site: Songs for the Journey & Beyond
But, here ya’ go:
For those who may benefit from a challenge?
“FOREST FULL OF WOLVES: Some liner notes & thoughts behind the upcoming album. The new album drops this January, 19th, 2018.

Here’s a track to listen to, as you pore through, should you decide to read the liner notes…
Before The Darkness Settles In
Enjoy,
~ bill
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Gold from dross,
Wheat from chaff,
Truth that nurtures vs. falsehoods that destroy us from within…

I’ve wrestled with it & written about it as truthfully as I know how from the vantage point of the road, poverty and broken-ness for 25 years through 78 albums.

Some call it an age of Confusion. Social commentators, journalists & duplicitous politicians race to place blame, spotlight the “villains,” name & punish the guilty.
Me? I suspect it’s deeper than that. It’s something closer to a sickness, a malaise. |
(Perhaps) something closer death.
And at the end of the day? To some degree, we’re all complicit.

Whatever “it” is, we all set the thing in motion, whether we’re inclined to acknowledge or role in that or not.
We manufacture the weapons (literally & figuratively) and then scratch our collective asses wondering why the body bags are filling up.

The Confusion? The Malaise?
It’s playing out on many levels. All the templates for “getting ahead” are broken.
That “north star” of the heart (that one comprised of time-honored convictions, virtues and courageous action) seems to have vanished, as well.

Even worse? It seems that a deep and sad spiritual malaise has made it’s way into our bones.
We pass emptiness on to our kids, to our loved ones, to our colleagues.
We bury ourselves in virtual realities that can neither diagnose or heal us.

Here’s the thing:
This “malaise” doesn’t even have to be nomenclature-ed in the verbosity of “religious language” or elucidated in the warring compartments of “schools of thought” or “political leaning.”
With all due respect, modern academia has had little “luck” in providing leadership that sees very far ahead of the darker trajectories our daily choices are falling towards.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This malaise is in & around & among us all.
“It” rallies, bullies, and blusters. It boasts of the most expensive war-machine on earth while stealing bread from the starving and turning a deaf ear to the cries of homeless, the displaced and the refugee.

“It” swears allegiance to a flag without examining how that plays out in policies that, lacking compassion, compromise “the weightier matters of the law.”
“It” dwells beneath the faces of listless kids glued to devices, looking, surfing, searching;
Your children. My children. The planet’s children.
Children who are forgetting how to dream; forgetting how to play, how to laugh;
Children slowly losing their souls.

A world of many voices competing for our attention, our affections and our allegiances.
A forest full of wolves.

Me? It makes for rock & roll of the best kind. And yes, rock & roll can be “diagnostic.”
I’ve been working on FFoW for 6 months; working with a set list of about 35 songs.
It’s been a beautiful time, a searching time and a cathartic time.

You’ll hear big guitars stretch out; noble, melodic, over-driven by small tweed amps from the 1950’s, taxed, eloquent, shaking off dust of the age they were born in. And you’ll hear a wrestling with these “weightier matters.”
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And so, here’s where I stand and, for what it’s worth, where I play my cards:
As an artist, I am always trying to engage my spirit first. It’s my “bounded duty.” I have no “right” to speak anything to you unless I have first done something of the hard work of brutal self-scrutiny. Real artists (as opposed to poseurs, hacks & entertainers) “owe it” to their listeners/viewers to at least attempt to “know themselves” before they open their mouths, take up pen, pick up paint brush, snap the photo or make the film. That’s the “preliminary” I try to engage in on every set of songs write. I think this album succeeds.

I hope I have offended no one nor insulted anyone’s intelligence here or in the songs I’ve made for this record. I doubt I have.
Living in the same skin, whatever “side of the aisle” we’re on, I suspect we all have a sense that “something’s not quite right.”

I’m a “hold out.”
I believe in Hope.
When hope dies? Well, just look at any of the great “empires” that have risen and fallen.
“Bread & Circuses.” Look the term up.
Be amazed.
That’s quite possibly “where we’re at.”
Hope? It may come in fits & starts, but yes: You can build a kingdom on Love, Compassion…and Hope
If you’re a believer?
It’s ours for the asking, but not without work on our part.
I think the warning alarms are going off and have been going off for a long time;
And I think we have frequently chosen deafness, failing to heed those alarms for just as long.

The power to make, mold and shape the world you want?
It’s always been there.
It still is.
High time to get to it.

It’ll help us to know what kind of world we want and what we’d like the future of this planet to look like;
If we don’t lay the foundations aright, then (just like Jesus’ parable of the man who built on sandy ground) our best efforts will likely be a stumbling in the dark,
a desperate grasping, and then a collapse.

Me? I passionately believe we can do better.
And I believe we “deserve” better; as do all peoples, as does the planet we all inhabit together.
We may be running put of time…

That’s really what this album is about.

Grace, always Grace…and Courage to everyone,
bill mallonee

ON OCCASION

ON OCCASION by: bill mallonee

There is something both out side & within
both distant, inscrutable;
seizures & welling-ups

i came into this room a stranger
it was cold, but i made do.
grew up with ramshackle, paltry thoughts,
mere impressions cascading in grey matter
some discarded;
some undergoing crude attempts at integration
cobbled ideals for living or just getting by

no sufficient nomenclature (as of yet…)
just a grief permeating everything
and one responding with
a game
of waiting
& distraction

i walked among those of sealed lips
lived, breathed the elan of the age
numbed the dark with the potions of the day
timed my laugh to fit the cadence of conversation
to fit in with those of the sealed lips

each of us now artists at dodging Question
till there are no more questions one could dodge
an old western gunfight,
too many bullets
from all directions
from black hats
in the dark

even now, i can make it out on occasion…
(the optics here? Less than visionary)
…make out the contours of departure;
a stammering, struggling exit
both distant, inscrutable,
in need of bright defiance

Funeral Songs/”ManicPhaseShifter” by Bill Mallonee

ManicPhaseShifter. VoL Live @ Schubas, Chicago,Il 4/27/2000

Here is an essay is called "Funeral Songs" They are the liner notes for Vigilantes of Love last "Live" recording, ManicPhaseShifter. The performance was incendiary, mercurial. on April, 27th, 2000. Live at Schuba's Tavern, Chicago, IL. 23 songs. On sale @ www.BillMalloneeMusic.Bandcamp.com

Here is an essay is called “Funeral Songs” They are the liner notes for Vigilantes of Love last “Live” recording, ManicPhaseShifter. The performance was incendiary, mercurial. on April, 27th, 2000. Live at Schuba’s Tavern, Chicago, IL.
23 songs. On sale @ http://www.BillMalloneeMusic.Bandcamp.com

This historic performance was/is dear to my heart. So it needed some liner notes.
It proved to be one of the band’s “last hurrahs.”
This mastered recording from the board was a storming, mercurial set played Chicago in one of our favorite rooms, Schuba’s. The set was as intense as the day is long.
The little band that could. And did.
Here’s how it all felt at the bitter end…
Enjoy the essay/liner notes.
Love & Grace, friends,
~ Bill Mallonee
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liner notes for MANICPHASESHIFTER

“FUNERAL SONGS” by Bill Mallonee
I think songwriting is a type mourning. The older I get, and the more miles I log on the road, the more I am convinced that a wordless, intangible spirit emanates beneath the veil of this reality. And it seems to be something akin to grief.
It is as beautiful as a heart-beat of a new-born or the passion between two lovers. All nuanced with a certain transcendence.

How else to explain it?

I think from day one I’ve always tried to give that heart-beat a nomenclature, if only to make sense of it for myself.
You learn that one can mourn with both tears of joy & grief in the eyes at at he same time.
Grieving. In a world of no guarantees perhaps grieving is the loudest declaration of faith left to modern man.

From the git-go, there was always so much inside.
So much needing to get out, then hold up to the light. Fine tuning (in the form of songwriting) came later.
So much to place on the table of the marketplace. Back then, I wrote a a clip of something like 75 songs a year. And while the clip is down to something like oh, 40 songs a year, the thrill of making new songs is still the same as it was in the early days of the band. Writing is a salve.
Salvific, even.

“Good work, if you can get it,” I say.

But always first: I wrote to save myself, to make sense out of a broken world within.
I have never written a single song with a particular audience in mind.
Why bother?
We’re all living in the same skin. Tell the truth, or some shabby, well-intentioned version of it, and we’ll all “get it.”

Me? I played out my quest make sense out of the world within & without via a little rock band called Vigilantes of Love. I divulged as much as I could to everyone who passed through it’s ranks.
I was lucky/blessed to have great band mates, those other passengers on the trip.
Sometimes all one can do is throw on the last shovel-ful, breathe a sigh and then walk away.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Love, Loss & Transcendence.
Those are the songs that interest me.
This whole live set sounds freighted with a desperation that is bleeding with such things. Such things always takes you by surprise.

I included the studio song “Hat in Hand.”
The coda. A symphony of grief & and feedback.
The swan song in this collection.
I included this studio song in this collection because it has such a “parting shot” feel to it.
A garage anthem.
In essence, a funeral song.
“And then they were gone…”

People ask me if I miss Vigilantes of Love.
Of course, I do. Every incarnation, but especially this one here. It had a chemistry that I have rarely seen in any other band. It was brutally honest, gutsy and authentic. We always knew the “end was near.” How we laughed and wrote our way through it is, I believe, a testimony to each individual’s sheer “cussed-ness.”
And the grace of God.

Mostly, though, I miss the friendships.

And yes, I mourn for what should have been and could have been if the right folks in our industry superstructures (managers, labels, agents) had done half the amount of work we did as a band.
I DON’T miss the truck loads of BS we put up with from suchincompetent people.
BUT, I will say this:
Being victimized consistently by incompetent industry people opened my eyes to one thing: You don’t need any superstructure to give you “permission” to be an artist.
How does the song go?
“Sew your heart onto your sleeve…and wait for the ax to fall.”

I don’t know any other band that released so much work & toured so hard over 10 years (and 15 albums) with so little results than VoL.
What to say? I think we took as much of it as we could, romanticized it for another 10 albums over the last 5 years of the band’s run and then said: “Enough.”

This finale is about the “enough.”

At the end of the day we were about the song & the moment; the delivery & the spirit…and the rock & roll.
Jake, Kevin & I hope you enjoy the set here as much as we did playing it.

Oh, and just what is good rock & roll?
Love, Loss, & Transcendence….(Rinse & Repeat.)

~ bill mallonee

Spring 2015
(Copyright by “Once More, This Time With Feeling” BMI 2015)
released April 16, 2015

Bill Mallonee; Guitars, vocals, harmonicas
Jake Bradley: basses (guitars of Solar System, Judas Skin)
Kevin Heuer: drums

(Michelle Thompson; bgvs on Nothing Like A Train, She Walks on Water,
Good Luck Charm & Starry~Eyed)

(All songs by Bill Mallonee except “My Back Pages” by B. Dylan)
Administered by BMI.

Mastered by: Bruce Neher at: Disc & Dat, Monument, CO

“The “source tape” for this was double disc soundboard recording from Schuba’s Tavern, recorded 4-27-2000. All in all a great, high energy show, and I’m very happy with how it all turned out after mastering and some editing.” ~ Bruce Neher/mastering engineer for “Manic. Phase. Shifter”~ Vol Live at Schuba’s

The “Audible Sigh” Years Vigilantes of Love 1997-2001

*****The Audible Sigh Years*****

An historic record;

21 songs produced by Buddy Miller & Bill Mallonee at: www.billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com

21 songs produced by Buddy Miller & Bill Mallonee at: http://www.billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com


A blistering band.
A brief reminiscence.

“You pick up an instrument. You wrestle it. Then, you learn to tap the inside and turn it outward. You find your voice, your “nomenclature” for telling your part of the story…and then you start to dream a bit….”
How do you know when you’re making history?
17 years ago I made an album. It was called “Audible Sigh.”
Sure: A grim title in some ways. Such had been our experience as rock & roll “band in a van” for the 2 years leading up to walking into Buddy Miller’s studio in Nashville.
We were on the verge; all the variables in place, we thought.
I had the songs. We were an undeniable band with years of experience on the road.. And yet, and yet…
We made a great record. In 3 weeks we recorded 21 songs.
Killed it.

Folks still talk about it.
Critics went nuts over it.

The whole experience changed my life.
It’s still changing it in ways I never imagined.
In some place, deep within, i will always be “walking wounded” because of those 4 years (1997-2000) with 3 of the coolest musicians in the world.
Produced by Buddy Miller & myself, it featured many a guest appearance. (Emmylou Harris, Julie & Buddy Miller, Brady Blade, & Kevin Heuer). 
But at the core? It was always about 4 guys.
Guitarist Ken Hutson, bassist Jake Bradley, drummer Kevin Heuer and myself.
“Audible Sigh” was celebrated by many a critic as one of the best Americana records of the 90’s. 
It still continues to make “best of” lists.

The band was on the potential verge of it’s biggest break through. 
We’d laid the foundation via diligent, heavy touring and 2-3 albums a year. We worked hard against overwhelming odds.
The 150 or so songs I’d written during this period were visceral, raw, tough, tender, full of soul, spirt and post punk energy; 
And they were well-played, night after night, by Kenny, Jake, Kevin and myself.
Through 4 albums and an EP, from 1998-2001. 
We made many friends. Many of them here on this newsletter.
We are still very grateful for each of you.
It was a surreal & strange 4 years. 
Through the albums Roof of the Sky, Audible Sigh, Electromeo, ‘Cross the Big Pond and Resplendent/Audibly “Live” what I continually hear is a band that is hungry & alive. Immediate and relevant.
and giving it’s all.
Our repertoire was nearly 100 songs. That’s an amazing set for any band. Each of those those gentlemen (Ken, Jake & Kevin) were, and still are, my heroes.
But, looking back? I honestly think I saw the “writing on the wall,” at least far as the outcome goes. Life “owes” no one anything.
You pick up an instrument. You wrestle it. You learn to tap the inside and turn it outward. You find your voice, your nomenclature for telling your part of the story…
…and then you learn and then you start to dream a bit. Then you work hard, often against insurmountable odds…and slowly you start to see, feel, believe that it could “go to the next level.”
But, no one can do it all alone.

So MANY of you here on this list were there. You pulled, encouraged and prayed for us. You bought lots of records. We’re grateful.
Thank You all.
So many promises made to us from “the industry.”
From labels, to managers, to booking agents. 
In the end? 
All lies. Lies characterized by incompetence & neglect; flippancy and short-views on their part. 
When you realize that people with small views and tin-ears are dictating your future? 
Well, it was bordering of nightmarish.
We soldiered on a bit, post 2000, but, as I said above: the writing seemed to be on the wall.
Bands live in vans. 
We were on the road 200 shows a year.
We laughed. We joked. We fought. Ate, drank, slept. 
Fought through weariness and depression.
Rejoiced. 
Immersed in the backdrop & glory of the four seasons of this great country, we bonded.
We looked after each other. 
We were family.
And then it was gone…

Musically? 
I think we knew what we had was big magic. Night after night, under the most adverse, discouraging circumstances, this was a band that delivered; Delivered raw, heart-on-sleeve America-roots music with passion & spirit. 
Me? I rarely saw what VoL delivered equaled by any of the more “resourced,” “successful” acts.

They say life is risk. 
So there’s a life risked for a 4 year span.
The highest elation. Filigreed with transcendent moments…
and, in the end, the deepest despairs. 
By the end of 2001 it was in shambles and all over. 
Irreplaceable.
To be honest? I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten over it. 
I’ve never put so much trusting energy into people or anything in my life. 
VoL
”rest in peace”

17 years down the stretch, since Audible Sigh, and I’m never sure anymore if what we do here counts for anything anymore. Is it only in our youths that there were days when all seems like a dream; but dreams real enough to be charged with a sense of purposefulness and hallowed-ness?

Never have I seen since or been part of something driven by so much hope, expectation and sheer “pluck.”
I wept inside for years after it was over.

“Perspective, old chum! For God’s sake man, pull yourself together!”
Forgive me…
I got to write songs people still sing. I made an album that, I think, still sounds better to be in the Americana word than 99% of what passes for country-alt today.
I was allowed to “open a vein,” to invest heart & soul in each performance on every stage all across this country and in the UK.
As a band, we got to make magic, transcend a bit of time, and maybe even move to the fringes of something bordering the Eternal…
We’ve all heard of near death experiences.
Perhaps these were “near life experiences…”

Or maybe “perspective,”is dropping back to sheer material reality.
Life Good. Life bad…
Life in it’s wondrous incongruity.

Who knows? Who cares?
It’s my little part of the story
I’m proud of it all; 

proud of VoL;

proud of my friends; 

proud of our fans.
As the old standard goes:
Thanks for the memories…

~ bill

“Oh, Death!”/Liner notes for the album, “Slow Trauma”

Slow TraumaSlowTrauma Cover

In the “old days,” they were called liner notes;
You know: Those written extrapolations an artist would offer about his or her new album.

As a kid, drums were my first instrument. They were learned in a dusty basement with a stack of old LPs, my first real school-room;
And liner notes? (the ones complete with the who played what?)
I thought they were the coolest thing on earth.
I still do.

Many of you know, I like writing about what’s “behind the work;”
A peering through the cracked window into the collection of songs;
You know, the inspiration, the etcetera, etcetera…

I suppose in a day and age, where fewer and fewer people read, it’s all just a vain exercise now. Selfish perhaps.
For me? Maybe, it’s just my little way of scrawling out: “Kilroy was here.”
(A fascinating historical sidebar: Kilroy was presumably an American soldier in WWII, who inscribed his presence here and there across Europe on things like Church steeples or walls, as the Allies liberated Nazi held territories. Get this: No one knows where it originated or who he (or she) was.

C’est la Vie & so be it…

“Slow Trauma” is the name of the new one. It drops/releases on 3.15.16.
It’s getting close to something like album #80 for me…
Kilroy has been here a few times

Sure, it’s an Americana record. And an “honest-to-God” Rock & Roll record, too.
That’s what I do.
That’s the “genre” where I feel most comfortable in my “musical skin.”

It’s also, very much a record about Death.
Let me explain…

I always felt the world was “off axis.” Not “the thing it should be.”
I knew early on “I” was part of the problem, as well.
And of course, good people, friends, loved ones “leave the party too soon…”
Mortality.
(“How’s that again?”)

For me anyway, doctrines like “The Fall of Man” mattered a lot. I gravitated there in an effort to make sense of it all…
In a very existential way they mattered.
It matters not whether such concepts be rooted in ancient history or deeply accurate mythology; Such doctrines are our attempt to explain how “modern man” has gotten “from A to B;” You know: How we arrived (in our oh-so-enlightened modernity) at this point on the timeline.

Arrived. Arrived here. Arrived in the “now.”
Arrived confused, beleaguered & deviled;
Our spirits permeated with a kind of numbness, wrapped in a kind of spiritual lethargy, stunted; Arrived cold & weary.
Arrived as a race of people given to fear, greed, cruelty. Garnished with a lust for violence and domination.
Its been going on forever…For. Ever.
No, we’re not so very modern after all, really.

Death. Cessation.
A component of my interior world.
I feel like I’ve been staring it down in one form or another all of my life.
I’ve been “institutional material” once or twice.
It has certainly shaped my melancholy temperament and driven my art in noticeable ways.

I know some movements across the spectrum of human history have glorified it, romanticized it, even reveled in it…
Death. What’s to revel in?
Me? I don’t see it that way. At all.
I think it’s more like an aberration.
A blasphemy.
God, damn it. (That’s a prayer. Not an expletive.)

The idea of the cessation of life has haunted me ever since I was oh, 7 or 8 years old.
Too young to feel or sense guilt about anything, as far as I remember.
Later on, I did heavy-duty “homework” on the Christian Faith.
And yes. I converted. It was a few moments, days of indescribable joy & confidence…
And then it all vanished in the shame of failures. Maybe it was my complete unfamiliarity and naivete of what the spiritual life was all about.
One’s prayers feel like they hit the ceiling and fall to the floor.
Guilt makes one alone and silent.
A babe lost in the woods…

I studied the Life of Jesus, the Lord, the Savior; I still do.
Learned about the Church’s history, it’s beauty, it’s heinous failures, it’s claims, and promises.

For me, the question was: How does one reconcile that tension/fear of death with it’s visceral dynamic with the hope of Christ’s Resurrection and it’s promise of our own?
I don’t know.

But, this is all too esoteric, isn’t it…?
I’ll play my hand.
I was always “weighed & found wanting.”
The unequivocal mood of my interior life? Feelings of damnation.
Like some dark beast crouching in the corner of my consciousness, it was almost always “there.” Watching, waiting, unrelenting.
I spent years struggling with the deeper aspects of Mercy & Forgiveness, mostly because, from day one, I felt so unworthy of any of it…and because my own “holiness” has always been crap anyway. I struggle to “see myself” as even remotely redeemable.
No “gussying-up” any of this.
(Recently, I’m wondering if it’s the “raw data” of good songs…
Well, at least the kind of songs I like write.)

The state of my soul has always been one of disarray and doubt;
Grievous sin and inconsistency.
And, I mention this, because the state of one’s soul has always been irrevocably linked to death and the hereafter.
The solution, in Christianity, has always been the Cross of Christ and the defeat of Death itself in his Resurrection.
That’s the Creed’s declaration.
My ability to grasp these beautiful truths by faith, to see oneself as a forgiven child of God, has always felt elusive.
Perhaps, i was/am still trying to “earn it.”

Still, the visible Church (it seems to me) often spends much of her time putting boundaries on just how far and to whom the Cross of Christ reaches; boundaries on just how far His Mercy reaches and how efficacious His Grace is.
No wonder eyes roll and hearts despair.

I must tell the whole truth, however:
On my “better days,” I have no doubts.
Well, fewer.
Love Wins,
Grace Triumphs
And that we’re all made Whole.
And I do mean “ALL.”
Everyone.
Every. One.
“He Is Risen,” goes the Easter liturgy.
And you & I, the stumbling, wayward congregation of the spiritually poor, blind, sin-sick and lame respond:
“He Is Risen, Indeed!”
I’m there.

So: All of this interior turmoil & wrangling?
What of it?
It’s the stuff of songs, I think.
It’s been just under the skin, or right out in the open of almost every song I’ve ever written; some 1500 in all, I think…
Cheap therapy, I say…

Slow Trauma. No, not all gloom & darkness…
I promise.
Sonically, I went for a ragged elegance; layered guitars, lyrical vulnerability…and rock & roll;
And yes, I think it has a few transcendent moments.
At some point (in the face of the all the “absurdity” that manifest in this thing we call Life) I think one just has to say with Julian of Norwich, that great mystic who was so not a part of her century: “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be most well.”

Slow Trauma
Hope & Joy do come up in the “plus column.”
But, that’s AFTER the wrestling & wrangling.
Wrestling and wrangling. Through the feelings of hopelessness & damnation.
“That’s what faith is all about, Charlie Brown.” ~ St. Linus

There is so very much I have to rejoice in; so much to be thankful for.
The gift of writing songs, playing instruments is, making records is perhaps, my favorite.
And yes, I see it coming very much “from the hands of the Lord.”
He know before my birth even, that i would need this gift to survive and make some sense of the fallen skin i live in in an all-too-fallen world.
He knew and provided and that is Jesus’ Mercy, as well.

You make certain peace with the fact of your own mortality; and your own sad, stumbling, “lacking-in-courage-humanity” at some point.
Why was I the last to know about my own “Judas skin” that I’m so comfortably living in?
At some point, you’re not surprised at yourself anymore.

But, really now?
An album that explores some of that?
I dunno how you ‘sell” that, but that’s what it is.
Then again, I hardly sell any records anymore anyway.

Jesus,
I can bring You nothing. Never have, mostly likely never will.
But, sometimes, sometimes I have these “better angels of our nature” days…
I’m Yours, Lord, if You’ll have me.

Slow Trauma.
Life beckons. You only get the day, one day at a time…
And the world? It is starving and hurting.
Best get about doing one’s part to lessen the grief.
Do your part, in your corner and among your friends, to kick at the darkness and at death itself.

That’s some of what this album is about…
“Kilroy was here.”

bill mallonee
Lent 2016

Lands & Peoples/ The new album’s Liner notes

Bill Mallonee/Lands & Peoples cover
Dear reader,
You can listen while reading (we encourage it!) or purchase the new work (if interested) at: https://billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com/album/lands-peoples-bill-mallonee-cd-vinyl-download-formats
Thank You grass-roots readers and fans, bill
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Task Is Ever Endless (Liner notes for Lands & Peoples by Bill Mallonee)
Lands & Peoples was recorded in the high desert of New Mexico between Jan & March of 2015.
Thematically, it is both a very personal & “outward” looking record, as well.

I’ve spent most of my adult life on the road. I joke with people, when on tour, that I had to join a band to get out of the South. Now, 60 plus albums and a million miles of road, it’s in the blood.
The road. The lands. The people. You can’t help but “take notes.”
Directions are crucial. It’s always good to know where one is.
Call it signs of the times:
Hearts fail for fear & grow cold. A certain malaise & confusion reigns.
Yep, from every quarter, leadership has failed us.
And Money has spoken all too arrogantly.
No matter where one chooses to lay the blame; whether you bet on the Left or the Right, we are a now a nation that
is wounded, burdened, even haunted.
The task that lies before us of healing (and redirection) seems impossible, endless.
I am well aware that folks (especially artists?) who make these sorts of assertions lay themselves open to the charge of being grandiose;
of possessing an inflated sense of self-importance.
Forecasters, prognosticators, doomsayers?
(How does the old joke go? What’s 5000 critics at the bottom of the sea…?)

If that sentiment is your inclination well, all I can offer is a “you’ll just have to trust me on this one.” In a day and age where everything from politics & religion has been reduced to bumper-sticker or facebook meme phras-ology, we tend to be not so much knowledgeably informed as conduits of simplistic notions. But that’s another post.

SO: Let me own it; make it personal from the “git-go.”
My vantage point is more like that of a concerned traveler; one with an ear to the ground, and an eye to the skyline.
One with a guitar & notebook in hand.

I’ve explored similar themes on past recordings.
But, the songs on Lands & Peoples (at least for myself) were a new starting point for me.
The writing & recording of these songs (some 40 written in all) provided me with something of a space. Something like a tract of land or a harbor…in the end, a sanctuary.
You drop anchor & look at the coastline of the past.

The Past. Modern man is usually busy charging beyond the past. Somewhat blindly, I think, he presses on to a future that, at best, is shadowy, suspect and charged with nuances of the apocalyptic.

The Past. These songs were a harbor where one could lament what could have been but was left undone in our history;
~ a place to acknowledge the sad chapters of our past;
~ a space to weep over the silencing of voices of Goodness & Truth when they appeared on the scene;
~ a small parcel on which to mourn the lives that were lost in this mad, uncritical rush to the altar of modernity.

What did we lose? What did we fail to keep? And are such things lost forever?
I think about these things. I think about them a lot.
What I think is that it’s important to let the Past interrogate us.

What to say?
Our own Greed & Fear dictates our path far too often.
The grim alibi of pragmatism (“It was for convenience’s sake”) is tragically employed.
(And God knows, old habits die hard.)

Maybe there’s a bright side in these songs as well.
Me? I’m always looking for a skeleton key to let a few of the better angels of my nature (if such things exist) to show forth.
Healing is often found closer to home, and maybe after such a finding, it never leaves.
Maybe, after we let the Past interrogate us, there something like a cleansing; one with a more sober vision that is birthed inside of us.

Perhaps, it’s like making a good confession.
“Go…and do better next time. We need you out there,” saith the Lord.

Where to go from here?
If our country is wounded, burdened and haunted then educating ourselves can’t hurt.
Nor can employing the lost virtue of listening compassionately to one another.
Of actually “seeing” one another.
The jury may be out but perhaps Love, Compassion, Prayer & Diligence may still carry the day.
And I betcha a little Courage will go a long way.
“Grace…and dirty fingernails,” my friend Dwight Ozard always use to say.

But, first there’s the field of one’s own heart to tend to.
Personal & social sins to “call out,” confess & repent of.
It’ll keep us busy. After all: We’re correcting our mistakes on an exam we’ve all failed.
After that, there are our own spirits to refresh, re-focus & nurture.
Hope to be refreshed and then hands to be placed upon plows.
Oh, yes, and dreams to dream again
If good things start in dreams, let the dreaming begin.

Perhaps, these songs were a way of doing that for myself.
Perhaps that’s their only value.

Because after listening, you may still find yourself to be more of the calculated, “realist” temperament.
And sure, you may easily dismiss these songs & renderings as simply those expressions of yet one more grandiose songwriter;
(“Clearly one with an inflated sense of self-importance,” you may say.)
Ah, well, to thyself be true then.

The Good Lord knows, I’m not the first to voice such observations.
There are still running around, those who dream of better days in a new & better world;
one birthed, brought to life after much travail, and finally sustained by changed hearts.
Hearts, in their own stumbling ways, attempting to pursue those “weightier matters of the law.”
You know ’em: Justice, Mercy, Faithfulness;
It’ll take a whole lot of Grace. “Grace & dirty fingernails.”

So, “ring them bells.”
In every dark age there have always been a few dreamers.
Why, the task is ever endless. ~ Bill Mallonee

“Detours To A Better Highway” by bill mallonee

Image
(Bill Mallonee is a singer-songwriter with over 50 albums to his credit. Rolling Stone has said: “Mallonee the troubadour has remained fascinated with the shadowy emotional toils and struggles inherent in the American experience; compelling, insightful, he continues to probe through Americana rock and roll proving that sometimes the only story worth telling is that of the journey.”  – Rolling Stone
Releasing as many as 4-5 album/EPs a  year, he  is constantly engaged with an inner dialogue that seeks to be made manifest. “I’ve been writing, recording & touring for 20 years,” he says. “The songs still come because the journey is still new & alive. If i do my job right, I assume it’ll resonate with others experiences. We’re all basically living in the same skin.”  The excerpt below are liner notes from a compilation album of songs he recorded on a 4-Track recorder. These songs were recorded in cabins in Appalachia, adobe casitas in the high-deserts of New Mexico and in his hometown of Athens, Ga.)

“Detours To A Better Highway” by Bill Mallonee

“The WPA series of recordings (there have been 20 installments over 4 years) was born out of situations both external & internal. Life, in its ideal, is lived by compass points & co-ordinates. Having something to navigate towards is a blessing, I suspect, we too often take for granted. After the dissolution of my first marriage & the “disowning” of my work by a certain cross-section of previous fans, I found I was without label, manager, booking agent or any of the resources that I had to make records & tour with. I had labored long & hard for over 10 years, writing, recording & touring. Now, it all appeared to be in shambles. There is no doubt life as an artist can be “hard.” The life that seems so alluring & fulfilling often has unseen “price tags.” For artists there are “never any guarantees” about how things will fall out. These things happen daily to all of us, of course. I am under no illusion. No one is exempt from life’s harshness.

Still, as one who at that point had spent 10 years in a van, young, hungry and willing to please, the overwhelming sense of dis-ownership by fans over my divorce was heart-breaking. All of this was taking place while each new release was being praised, each new tour was seemingly successful. Call it a “run of bad luck, ” but the litany of other betrayals both personal & professional was sobering. All of it? A wake up call.
There was also such a thing as disgust with one’s own self. Not a new issue, but a chronic, if not neurotic, sense of guilt and failure had been driving my psyche all through college and well into my first years as a husband and new father. The unsuccessful attempts to tune out & stare down such dark intrusions was a candle burning at both ends. I suspect songwriting was always an attempt to “make sense” of a world within in which I often felt invisible, if not outright dammed. “Bad religion?” The most destructive thing on the planet.Sometimes you make songs just to keep the dark away. That was one of the impetuses behind my approaching song-writing differently. With no band to help or abet the fleshing out of new songs, song composition was to become a more solitary venture.
Anyway, in this desert-land of self-doubt & discouragement the Works (in) Progress Administration EPs were “born.” I have always written a great deal.  These recordings, consisting of 5 to 8 sings each, emerged about every 3-4 months. A limited, simple Zoom 4-track recording device became a path out of the sad terrain.
The songs came fast. The lyrics, faster still. Quick audio-sketches, hit with authority. Postcards from the terminal ward. Suddenly, (and almost effortlessly) a new world opened up. I now had the chance to write & record secondary & tertiary guitar parts, weaving them harmonically and responsively with one another. For hours on end I would play parts over & over (driving Muriah crazy, I’m sure!) until some new aspect, some new musical statement was realized. Lyrically, I wanted vulnerability & immediacy to be the hallmark in these songs. whether they were of a confessional, or grieving, observational or cathartic nature, I was having fun again. Songs were fleshed out, more parts added. I experimented with what sort of melody lines should be allowed to “speak” in a song, what weight to give to vocal phrases. Things like this opened a whole new world of just “what” makes a song a wonderful thing.
Initial ideas grew, took shape, and finally were recorded as well as i knew how back then and released in the WPA format. I sorted through the vast treasure trove of Americana art, posters, and nostalgia works. I began to read in depth and at length the great works of American authors of the period in our nations rise & expansion. Hundreds of histories, myths, legends, photos & diary excerpts found their way into my hands. Stories we should be proud of, stories we should stand in awe of…and things we should be ashamed of.And Music? It became a challenging & joyous thing a again; something full of promise, beckoning; And yes, something healing. (Eventually, many of these songs would up on very large plains indeed! The national releases of “The Power & The Glory” & “Amber Waves” received fantastic press & garnered “fab” reviews.)Though we may feel only the stumbling & inconstancy of our steps in day-to-day existence, m

aybe God “loses” nothing in our lives. Perhaps the place where our new-found “wisdom” and experience meet, while intensely personal, is something that has to be journeyed through in order to become real and lasting.
I know that the best “sermons” are the one’s you write and preach daily to yourself.

Whether it was through my guitar arsenal of an ancient Gibson,  a beat-up old Spanish guitar, or a 50 year old arch-top that one had to wrestle into submission, or raw Neil Young “Harvest” era electrics, I was becoming free inside and more confident with each WPA offering. In the process, I was able to trust my intuitive sense, my gut level. All became effortless again.
“Renderings” is by no means the totality of musical landscapes that I was traversing, locked away in a small room with guitars & coffee. There were easily 50 to sixty songs written during this year. But these selected tracks from Volumes 1-4 do represent some of the mile-markers that I crossed as I tried to regain a sense of self.

Call this all a “small” experiment. “Self-absorbed” was putting it mildly. Still, the anodyne these songs yielded brought confidence back and were the catalyst to creative growth and my soul’s integration.
It goes without saying that the themes of grief, wayward humanity and (finally) hope surfaced here.
After all the work, and the settling of dust, I found I could draw an affirming breath again. I’ve never lost sight of whatever gift or grace was extended to me during this time. I don’t know whether it was something wrestled from the hands of angels, as I was driven to create something new from the wreckage of my past, or it was something more like pure gift making itself manifest in my work. I was able to breathe something that was invigorating…and full of new possibilities.

If you choose to drop in on the record (It’s up for free listening at the site below) I hope you enjoy the excursion as much as I did.
~ bill mallonee
credits
released:  January 2013
Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, bass, drums, harmonicas, piano.
Muriah Rose: piano, accordion

credits

released January 2013
Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, Bass, druns, Harmonicas Piano.
Muriah Rose: accordion
WPA vol. 1-4/”RENDERINGS”
RENDERINGS (A WPA vols.1-4 Retrospective) cover art

2 New Albums by Americana singer-songwriter Bill Mallonee; Liner Notes to “Beatitude” & “Heaven In Your Heart”

Aside

THE BEATITUDE COVER_2_2_2

Before we get started:
I’m flattered if you, dear reader, even read 2 paragraphs here. You owe me nothing. And God knows, our worlds are cluttered with “type” everywhere you look, all demanding your attention.

So yes: I’m glad you’ve stopped in, even if it’s tentative.
There are two sets of liner notes here. They are connected with the 2 new albums I’ve released in the last 2 months. If you’d like some “background music,” you can roll over to Beatitude & Heaven in Your Heart/WPA 18 at the bandcamp site and listen as you read. Let me know what you think.

Making music is what I do & writing about what’s under the skin of each album (There have been 55 albums, now) is what I do, as well. As a few of you here may (or may not) know, I’m a singer-songwriter. “Americana music” is the genre critics place my work in. So be it.
Yes: I’ve been at it a while. And “yes”, I’ve got some national “cred.”
I’ve released near 55 albums over 20 years. Myself (and a few bandmates) have been through all the glorious stimuli/response dynamics of various label deals as a recording artist that played out in a band-in-a-van ennui for 12 years (1991-2002)…and then on into my current world that is more solo acoustic driven.

The road is a friend. Most of the time. Usually the silent type. Spend time with anyone for a spell, and they change you. The road is no different. Days on the road from the inside of a van; Nights on beer soaked stages, or in small town cafes; the occasional theater. Playing original music. Dragging it all back home to wife & kids just to say: “Well, the folks seem to like what I do. Here’s my take.”
A fool’s errand to some. During the “locust years” you try not to think about it too much.

No, it was never riches, but it was always good enough to get by to the payment, the next trip to the grocery store, the next doctor’s visit…the next album.
All part of my schooling.
Off the grid.
Out of the box.
Making it up as we went along.
…that part of the road that changes you.

Maybe it takes years of doing something long & well before you “wake up” and realize that you’ve put your own style, or own imprimatur on it. Perhaps it took years of writing songs, recording albums & then laying the wares in front of folks every night for me to “spark;” to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Here’s where it went:
Eventually, one comes to that (glorious, liberating) place as an artist where you can leave the hipsters to their hip-ness, be amused by the cultish-ness of the blogger/critics, and walk away from trends.
Eventually you can say: “Hey, this is what I do. Maybe not for everybody, nor is it meant to be. But, it’s good and it’s what I do.”

Maybe that’s how an artist is “born.”

I’ve never had much to offer except perspectives gleaned from exploring the human predicament through the windows of a songwriter’s life. Most of it has been lived below the poverty level. I count that as a feather in the cap of  something like “authenticity.” Calluses on the hands. The work, and the groundswell of folks who have been listening for a long time, has been enough to outsmart the wolf at the door, so far. Never had to go without a meal or a roof over my head. God, be thanked.

For me, the song, the story, and the “delivery” is mostly what I’ve always “been about.” That’s what you’ll hear on these two recent recordings. “Beatitude” was recorded with my old band, Vigilantes of Love, in a classy studio.  “Heaven In Your Heart” was recorded  in our home, a small adobe casita way back in a canyon in the high desert of New Mexico, where my wife & I live when we’re not touring.

Here we go on the liner notes. Let me know if the songs & work speak to you. That’d be cool..and, if you’ve read this far, generous thanks for your attention!

Grace & joy on the journey,
bill
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART”/WPA 18. by Bill Mallonee
"HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART"/WPA 18 cover art
~  “HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART” LINER NOTES ~
(Album released July 4th, 2013)
“Bruce Springsteen released Nebraska in 1982. Sparse, brutal and passionate it was (and has continued to be) a record that both repels & compels.
I think “Heaven in Your Heart” might be my “Nebreska.”
Musically? A 1947 Gibson ES-125 and my old Martin D-35 carry the weight of the 10 songs & their arrangements. The battered guitars, the dull strings,the ghost-ing of our porch chimes in the high desert wind, dogs barking, and the creak of an old wooden chair…these combine to paint a mood even before words & stories are sung.

For the characters in these songs life has become harsh & unpredictable. They wrestle with their fate like Jacob with the angel. Outcomes are up for grabs. Everything is tainted with failure & fear. Belief is strained. For these characters, salvation is elusive.
Grace, if it surfaces at all, might just be luck-of-the-draw.
And just why is it’s Face so often a hidden one?
And why, if it exists at all, does it visit some and not others?

But, doubts are not only born of external-ities.
Often they are the sons & daughters of our own inability to be true to ourselves. Creatures of perpetual compromise. We fail to stay aligned to our own deeper principles, tossing compasses overboard.
For these characters here a sort of inner integrity has died.
Those sorts of little inner deaths are confusing, lonely.
And still, and still, such epiphanies have there own salvific and bracing work in our wayward hearts.
That’s some of what this album is about.
Dust & rust homilies of sorts.

And so, here’s “Heaven In Your Heart.”
I hope you’ll find a place for it in the collection.
And if not? Well, maybe some day under a different set of circumstances these songs will make contact and “have their say.”

Courage,
bill
Summer 2013

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Beatitude” by Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love. Released June, 2013

"BEATITUDE" Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love cover art

“Beatitude/Field Notes”
Loneliness. The earmark of the 21st century. You can only wear it like a badge for so long. Loneliness is what makes you listen for a voice inside yourself. We’re tweaked for a transmission of sorts; some thing like a “contradiction” to the cut-off-ness you sense.  A search, an inventory of what is within or with out, that you are not as alone as you feel.
A word about the characters in these songs. I know ’em all. In my line of work, you tend to meet so many folks who are “just holding on.” I dunno if it’s representative of what’s going on in the rest of the country, but after 20 years on the road, it’s hard not to take the stories told me as some sort of “pulse” of the nation. And even if my “field research” is suspect, you get the feeling that even if the lines of our lives have fallen in pleasant places that all of that comfort zone is vulnerable to being “rearranged.” Life’s web hangs very fragile. Some of that spirit is what’s going on here on this album.

If we’re all living in the same skin, the “sighs & groanings” of the spirit are our “vernacular.” Our “everyday tongue.” All of the characters here have some desperation as the common thread of their existence. Probably just like you & I.
The characters are the usual unsung saints: coal miners, small farmers, grieving spouses, burden-bearing letter carriers & boxcar transients down on their luck, looking for work. It’s all very close to home.
I hope you enjoy these places these folks go, what they have to do to survive…and, more importantly, think about how they got there. It seems we live in a day & age where all the old templates are shattered and all the formulas are up for grabs. “Beatitude” was recorded with a full band in the studio, this collection is the best produced group of the songs I’ve written in the indie-folk/country-alt delivery. Many of these songs we play a lot in our current “live” set. We went for a “live-in-the-studio” feel on these songs. There are some famously grand moments here. It is always a joy to play & record with one’s own friends. And, if you find some aspect of your own journey reflected here in these songs always take comfort in the fact that you are never alone. peace,
bill

personnel on “Beatitude” (released 07 June 2013)

Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, harmonica
Muriah Rose: piano, vocals
Kevin Heuer: drums, percussion
Bill Pratt: pedal steel, banjo
Bert Shoaff: bass, double bass
Jake Bradley: bass, guitar

OF SILVER BULLETS & GLASSES DARKLY…

Perhaps, there are no guarantees and no predictable outcomes in this life, even if you “do it by the book.” Good people with good hearts too often “leave the party too early.” I’ve ceased to try and understand it. To do so would simply mark you, in a matter of speaking, as “one of Job’s friends.”

Too many of my friends & acquaintances have died. I’ve refused to ask myself “where they were with the Lord when the died” anymore. Such questions strike me as arrogant, insulting to the courage that the deceased person exhibited…and irrelevant. Sure, I believe that a person can have a greater or lesser apprehension of God’s “nearness.” But if God is Love, then the point is simply that the Lord, whether the dying knew it or not, was tenderly near each of them.

On most days, I do believe that “it all means something.” That it’s all going somewhere. God seems to have built that dynamic of hope & expectation into the tapestry of things. There’s gracious plenty in the world that’ll rub that affirmation raw in 5 minutes, of course. But, I still believe that God “gets the last word.” And, I suspect (call me a fool or a heretic) that word He gets will be a good one.
No. Most often, what staggers our credulity is His utter lack of good timing. Timing by our watches, anyway. It’s the “when” will He speak such a word?; The “why is it taking Him so long?”; That “when will He show up?” that stymies, frustrates, unnerves all of us.

How does one wait without throwing in the towel? How does one hold on and not be undone by futility or overcome by bitterness? Perhaps, the “trick,” in the here and now, is to affirm whatever little shred of grace you see in your life & in the lives of others. Began to sense it, look for it, and (when it’s finally seen) be quiet before such revelations…Indeed, be amazed. Amazed because you may begin to find such graces everywhere. And in Everyone. The world my start to explode with meaning. You’re developing an instinct beyond the intuitive.

That, to me, is where a life of “faith” is affirmed and in fact “con-firmed.”

Sure, it takes courage to live by such faith. There’s a lot that’ll always seem “up for grabs.” Maybe it takes a dogged stupidity as well. 
It’ll be a courage of strange origins. You, more than likely, won’t know where it comes from till much later. It surfaces through many conduits. It takes falling down and despairing of ones-self. There are no schools to learn such lessons in. It likely wouldn’t be faith you “bought” if it was avialiable via a Univ. of Phoenix course.
And now, the scary part: It’ll take entrusting ones-self to a Love that knows no bounds in it’s Mercy & Concern for you. It takes getting up (after stumbling and falling) and seeing that your life really is, in so many intangible, wordless ways, a wonderful Gift, a wonderful Life. But of course, that Love may ask you to begin to give your heart more & more to it’s vision and it’s way of seeing things; It’s way of loving.

I’ll go out on a limb here:
If you happen to be an “Ex-Church-Person-in-Recovery,” a someone who had “religion” rammed down his/her throat, it might mean taking a different tact when it comes to declaring “for or agin” Life’s understandability.

Call it a quest, a holy inquiry. Call it an interrogation.
It might mean demanding proof, or convincing, or insight or grace from God that all of this hallowed/crazy/broken thing we call “LIfe” actually means anything at all. It might sound more like: “Lord, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t quit on this today,” and less like some worn credal recitation, or some other spiritual brownie-point-earning endeavor to “re-assure ourselves” that we’re “OK.”
Call it “skipping the formalities.”

“Ante-up. What’s this all about?”

But here’s the catch:
If He does respond, if He does reveal Himself then (to quote the old Robert Johnson song) “you gotta move.”

We so often act as if the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist. We try (often vainly) to arrive at some apprehension of God, of His will, of His goodness by the “mind,” while leaving the elements of “dialogue” out of the equation. And by dialogue, I mean simply that you talk to Him & He talks to you, listens to you, answers you, weeps with you and rejoices with you. Approaching Him only with the mind starts to feel…well, a little over-rated. He’s been known to whisper some amazing poetry into some folks’ ears. Sometimes ears need wildernesses to retreat to hear such Love’s deeper & healing declarations…
And let’s face it: Tidy doctrines & formulas are so much easier (and “safer,” too.)

I suspect God is both “big enough” to handle our deepest questions and equally passionate enough to give us (His beloved) an adequate reply.

“Faith” will never be struck from the inquiry, from the interrogation. To do so would be like covering your ears and expecting to still hear Him answer. Faith is like your relay tower to apprehend His side of the dialogue. Yes, the dialogue will be honored and that, out of love. You’ll see, hear, apprehend His “Is-ness” in the  world, including your world. 

But take note, beloved seeker: His replies may not be the answer that “wins” the whole shooting match. No. It may look more look like one silver bullet, held by the faith He gives you…to get you through one more day. You’ll “know” where it came from and who gave it to you.

But maybe that’ll just be enough.

It’ll be enough, because you took Him to task once, to be able to take Him at His word a million times over…

Until We Make Contact/Grief & the Certain Slant of Light. (Memories of my father, William (Bill) Cyrus Mallonee, Sr.)

~ Until We Make Contact/Grief & the Certain Slant of Light 

(Memories of my father, William “Bill” Cyrus Mallonee Sr.)     

He’s been gone 8 years now. I miss him. I saw it all rolling out before me early on. And sure enough, it played out more-or-less the way I thought it would. You lose your last blood line into the world, and it starts to feel a little more fragile. It’s a process; the “trying to make sense of it all.” 

Sure, I could have wished for a happier ending. But “you play the cards you’re dealt,” as the old songs say. Given the variables in his character of his brilliance, joviality and sadness, when wedded to an innocence almost bordering on gullibility, I don’t see how anything but a miracle could have prevented the outcome. It’s like my wife says, paraphrasing Ma Joad: “A million things could happen, but only one ever does.” 

I saw him at his best. A gift to be sure. He emerged, at least to my consciousness anyway, as a vigorous young man in his late 20’s. Wings of inspiration and passion still dripping wet…and all was promise. 

Chapel Hill, NC. Early 60’s. He was a young-married, a new father, an eager dad, an Explorer Scout master, a semi-pro jazz drummer. He was a lover of wine, women and song. Mary, his wife, embodied all of the last three. And he was a brilliant, young scientist. My mother always referred to those years in Chapel Hill, NC (1960-1971) as “our golden years.”

He was working in the Research Triangle Park. He had just patented 35 processes that led to the invention of indoor/outdoor carpet. The company he worked “owned” his technology and inventions & thus reaped millions off of him. He never saw a penny. This is true. He shrugged it off. “More ideas will come,” he’d say. “The well hasn’t run dry.” That was his gullible side that believed in the Company’s “goodwill.”

He was athletic, confident, and focused.  He was also as “debonair” as much as a geek could be.

I can still see and hear and smell all that was our family’s Friday evening ritual
festivities…The sounds of him coming home from his lab, his chemicals and
inventing. Hugs all around; sitting down to play drums on a bit of “Take 5,” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. (“If you can play in 5/4 time, Billy, THAT’s special.”) Followed by the week’s “victory” Martini for he & mom. Steaks on the grill out-of-doors and perhaps a quick invite to a neighbour or two. He would play Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Louis Armstrong a bit too loud, dancing with Mary, martini in hand, vigor oozing from every pore. Later on in the evening the be-bop of Miles Davis and Coltrane showed up. It was the flip side of the passionate scientist who was my father. 

I was a kid, less than 10. You tend to think of these moments as something frozen as if in a frame; a perpetual world of warm sunshine and smiles woven with nuances of “possibility” at every turn. The world, in a word, was “charged.”

His hard work & good fortunes lasted well into his 30’s and early 40’s. Later, the years of economic reversals, professional sadness-es and outright bad luck would claim the brightness from his sharp blue eyes and shackle that spontaneous spirit.

We are, often without knowing it, “dialed in.” We are are quietly transfixed by “tapes” we listen to within our hearts. We hardly know they’re playing. Perhaps the dial of each of our heart’s radio station is set early in life. There are a lot of “transmissions” out there. Good programs and bad ones. The “bad broadcasts” often reveal their “call letters,” so to speak, when we discover we’ve been living in fear & anxiety, bitterness & calculation; when we nurse our grudges and pamper our wounds. It’s hard to change the station.

I suppose the tapes of my father’s orphaned youth played too deep inside for many folks to notice. His biological dad skipped out when he was 7. He remembered talk of being put up for adoption. Then at age 11, when his mother remarried, his step-father sent him off to boarding school. He never really came home again. I suspect he always wondered if he was really loved and if he was ever good enough. All of his “stations” seemed to suggest this.

I think I saw it even as a youth. His perpetual driven-ness, perhaps masking a world of wounded-ness, had to take a vacation once in a while. Alcohol helped him “stare it down” for short seasons. But I think what his friends saw as a “drive” that seemed to know no bounds, was really more of a pleading entreaty: “Am I doing this right? Am I’m I ok? Am I good enough? Somebody say something…”

His “game face” made it hard to detect. Dad rarely dropped his guard. But, I think I sensed something of it on occasion. Those ever increasing rounds of parties and celebration eventually devolved  into drinking alone.

But you never drink alone.

You can always see your real “self” sitting there across from you and your glass. And you wonder who the hell you are. And you wonder what any of this means. 

And you wonder about such things, as he did very much wonder about them, alone.

One can be drowning and not know it. I was barely into college. I had “gotten saved.” And my own vain, paltry attempts to offer him help were usually fueled by so much over-zealous “evangelism” that he, quite rightly, ignored them. I was a prick, assuming too much and not knowing half of what I prattled on about God, the Bible, sin and salvation. God, have mercy.

The sad fact, the way i see it, is that there was no one really “there” for him. There was no one there to mentor him when he was young, or challenge him when he was older…No one really there to say that encouraging “atta baby!”. It would have meant everything to him. Maybe the encouraging words we withhold from each are more harsh than the cruel ones we often say.  

But if he was anything, he was a survivor. Captain of a ship going down. You learn to cope with the gnawing feelings of inadequacy. Stare down the flotsam and jetsam coming off the boat that just hit the rocks.

There was no dropping of the guard even with himself. And because there was no dropping of the guard, there existed no possibility of discovering a way for him to befriend the hurting orphan in himself and say to him: “You’re a great kid. You’ve done so much with your gifts. You’ve loved your wife and kids. Bravo, sir!”

The continual calling forth of energies from within to hush the “bad tapes,” of course, was eventually doomed to failure. That station broadcast 24/7/365…and as such energies dissipated with age, he listened to it more and more. He sank further into depression in his later years. He soldiered on because, after all, that’s what survivors often do. He marched hand in hand with his own sadness.

The sad thing? Even if such good influences had existed in his life, I’m not sure he’d have had truck with them. They didn’t fit in his schematic for his own self-acceptance, and self-worth. Self-worth? That was a thing to be earned. A thing to be struggled for; a peace to be bought with the currency of sweat and discipline….and even then, maybe it wasn’t enough.

The best thing he had was my mother, Mary, departed now almost 3 years ahead of him. He was lucky to have Mary, my vivacious mom, for a wife. A beauty, a poet, a dreamer. I asked her (about 10 years ago) how she and Dad had met. We were chatting on the phone one Sunday evening. Here’s the story:

Mary is attending a party at the Univ. of Va., circa 1950. She is with another fella that night and has just entered a large Southern gothic home on campus where the party is being held. Mary, elegantly dressed, is barely through the door when suddenly, another student, slightly tipsy stumbles down a long flight of stairs that open out into the entry way. She, startled, drops her handbag, reaches out and breaks his fall.

“And that man,” my mother said, “was your father.”

I don’t know if it was a “Holy Spirit moment” or not, but I said: “Mom, you’ve been catching him all your life.” I don’t remember her saying anything.

He marched on a bit longer after she died. 3 more years. My wife and I saw him through one drama after the other. Repossession of his car, being kicked out of a nursing home for angry outbursts. Insult to injury, the Veterans Administration denied him thousands of dollars that were his because of his service in Berlin with the Army. He was “ready to get out of Dodge,” he told me. “I want to see Mary. I’ve heard her her voice in the wind many times,” he said. I have no doubts of it. He took the boots off and passed on (I believe) to catch up with her.

So, what have I learned about grief?  What do I know about the best things lost (or worse) not fully realized; things never “birthed?”

Here’s what I think I know: I believe there are dark things that can rise up from within and overtake us at any time. I don’t mean dark things like demons, or malevolent spirits. Such explanations are too easy – too convenient, if not outright nonsense.

It’s simply that, most of the time, much darkness goes unnoticed and uncontested beneath our skin. My Dad, given who he was and what he was born into, had no real idea what was living beneath his. Nor did he have the tools to excavate them…and here was an intelligent, passionate man. The element of popular psychology that might have made for some healing was decades off for him and, as I said, I’m not sure he would have had truck with it anyway.

No, his “rules for life” were hard work, getting tougher in tough times, and
loving passionately the good things in life. He believed in “making one’s own luck.”  

I think the rush and flash of notoriety from his hard work startled him intially. His inventions and patents made millions for his company but, as I said earlier, he never saw a dime of it. And his new-found identity further masked numerous smaller cries for help.

I wonder sometimes why I had the ears to hear those cries. You wanna help. You wanna get inside…but, I had no idea how to.

It was almost 30 years before his death & he was very much alive. I was grown and married myself with two sons. As a young songwriter, I found I was writing 75 songs a year for the first 10 years of my work. It was as if some dam had broken open. My father’s past showed up everywhere.

The first song about him was called “America, America”

It was a simple, 4 minute journal. Sung in the first person, it was disarming. And I knew it was disarming. I knew it was an “Everyman” kinda tune. I could barely sing it “live” for years after it was written. I remember it’s debut:

The tune, barely a day old, was played at the old Downstairs Cafe, in Athens, Ga. There’s a place in the song, during the bridge, where a lump in the throat showed up. It was the place in the song where I sing, about this man of boundless energy and unspoken sadness:

“I remember kicking  ’round the vacant corner of some playground

I was hoping I might get you back…and dying to make contact…contact…contact…”

with each voicing of the word “contact” trailing off a little quieter, a little quieter, till a whisper…It was an orator’s way of marking the distance that I felt was happening and there was no way to halt it or reverse it.                              Distancing. A premonition? It was as if I already “saw” how all this would fall out 30 years before it happened. I wasn’t wrong.

My wife, Muriah pointed out to me that the song was about grieving, but a
grieving that took place long before his death. 

Grief over things lost, things not realized. Grief over the incongruities, the cruelties and the inexplicable things of his life. Now, I can see that the sacrifices he made for his 3 kids was nothing short of heroic. 

I’ve said this before here, but I believe it: God gets the last word in these matters. Faith asks us to believe that all things will be whole, will be made new. If “playing the hand that’s dealt you,” is part of what it means to believe, then he believed very, very much. And that, too, is heroic.

Are yearning, waiting, letting go, and grieving all brother & sister components of “faith?” Are they the little “merit badges” of walking through this veil of tears? Maybe so. Perhaps there is no triumph of grace, no final victories unless we all find such wholeness. Wholeness for all. Our beloved, our children, our friends, our colleagues, and even our enemies.

Forgive our failures to say the kind, encouraging word to each other, merciful Lord. Forgive us the words we withhold. Words that may be the first installment of Your own words to us: “Well, done thy good & faithful servant. Enter into the joy….”

Dad, I had it easy. I watched from the sidelines. I saw the heroism in your spirit emerging. I saw it in all it’s stumbling glory. Sure, it took me some time to hear what tapes you were listening to; even longer to name them. But I knew them. Those stations & their “transmissions” sounded so much like many of my own. But, I did see you “stare them down.”

And now, maybe I know why. You stared them down so you could “show up” for life. For us. For me. You did your best with what you were given, played the hand dealt you. I still hear celebration. I can still see the youthful vigorous energy and smile. Sinatra, “Dino,” 5/4 time, Mary, with Martini in tow. Life, kids: “Here’s how you do it.” You were a natural, Dad. For us.

This life: the old familiar vale of tears. The exacting toll of bedevilled years.
Our lives: these hastily erected, make-shift tents pitched in a world with tainted springs where the ghost-words of Ecclesiastes scribes ring all about our ears.

Until we make contact, Dad.
You are so very missed.

Love, always,
“Billy”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“America, America” by Bill Mallonee 

america, america 
my dad sure believed in you 
he said “a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do” 
got his degree at your diploma barn 
he was the first kid off the farm 
gonna change the world with chemistry 
but i know you’ll do…what you ask him to 
…for america 
bought a new house with a tailored front yard 
run up all the credit cards 
hell, there’s more where that came from it’s a cinch 
i knew by the age of six i’d never make a scientist 
when i saw the price you paid in their trenches
still, i know you’d do…everything they asked of you
…for america.
they cut the moorings of your sacred ship 
pushed her out and they let her drift 
then the wind changed unannounced 
brought a new friend home to watch tv 
to help you deal with the anxiety 
she measured out her love in ounces 

yeah i’ve seen you do…what she asked you to 
…for america 

i remember kicking ’round 
the vacant corner of some playground 
hoping we would get you back 
and dying to make contact…contact…contact
…with america 

now i struggle to pretend 
and fill the gaping holes in 
and remember all you did 
looking back to take inventory 
I put the best construction on the story 
i’m now writing for my kids 

’cause i know you’d do…what they ask you to 
…for america 

america america 
God shed your grace in his lonely heart this evening                                                      and if he falls asleep gather him and hold him tight and help me with this grieving 

’cause i know he’d do…what you ask him to 
i salute you

credits

Bill Mallonee: guitars, vocals, harmonica

Mark Hall: accordion

from Jugular, released 15 April 1990