An interview with singer/songwriter Joel David Weir


(Interview conducted by Bill Mallonee)

The new Ep is Tell the Truth.

1. Joel, judging from my familiarity with your previous work, I was expecting a barbed and unrelenting political diatribe, one with “teeth.”. Instead we’re treated to very restrained, almost gentle collection of songs. Explain!

Tell the Truth ‘happened’ in the midst of recording the upcoming, big, full band studio album “The Last War”. We got done with the tracking for TLW, I took those songs back to my home studio and did additional work on them, but in the midst of that process, there were some songs that emerged that I quickly figured out were a different “thing”. The debut JTS EP was “Closet Songs I”, which I wrote and recorded in one week as an antidote to my procrastination problem. The idea of that one was, one mic, one guitar, in an actual closet in my home. One song a day, write it and record it. I ended up adding some textures on that, but all acoustic guitar. On TTT I ended up capturing what the late night sessions of writing on ideas (some songs are actually older, but had not yet found a home, while some are brand new) and exploring not only lyrically ‘risky’ areas but sonically as well. I think its pretty fragile and vulnerable, but in a different way that Closet Songs was. I open with “Liar” which is sort of a ‘laying bare’ the idea that, while on the record I explore themes of mortality, politics, fear, doubt, even sexual assault culture, I cannot even state with certainty my own purity of heart or motivation. I like to introduce “Liar” live as “the most honest song I’ve ever written”. But, to get back to the initial question. I think its interesting that the ‘barbs’ don’t come through more sharply. I actually feel like some of the songs have among the sharpest lines i’ve written, almost hard to perform live. Especially on “Boys will be Boys’ (based on experiences of women very close to me concerning the ‘ol boys club’ culture of campuses and corporate america), and on the closer “The Heretic”. That’s one that I actually think could get me in trouble in certain venues (lol!). But it just flowed. I see, though, how it could be heard at first as gentle, based on some of the arrangements. Its a weird record. Maybe the gentleness sensed is more of a woundedness- these songs have a theme of wounds – of being at a place where telling the truth is the only way for the wounded to find justice, but also the only way that those in power can realize their humanity – to admit their own wounds, their own fragility, their own mortaility.

2. The instrumentation is wonderfully sparse.
Acoustic guitars with minimal treatments, keyboards supply melodic underpinning, a few drum loops and vocals. all giving way to a wearier vocal delivery.
It’s a significant departure for you.
Thematically, what were the truths you wanted highlighted here?
What are your inner reference points here?

Joel: So, musically I love understated arrangements. I love when you wait for that one little ‘bit’ in a song that only shows up once. I also felt that the songs demanded a fragile treatment – it should sound beautiful, but it should also sound like it could fall apart at any moment. So, a reference point for me, in the type of music I write will always be records like Jay Farrar’s “Terroir Blues”, just ones I listen to and think – ‘man, that’s a whole world created there, but its not “BIG”, its got a strong anchor, but its gutsy, weird, surprising, and takes some commitment to “get”.

“Tell the Truth” is a very purposeful them. In the ‘post-truth’ era I wanted to dive deep (or, more accurately, I would say, it just kind of showed up that it was the theme) I wanted to explore what it was to tell the truth. First there is the willingness to say ‘i don’t know everything.. I could be wrong’ (Liar), then a spotlight on the courage it takes for someone who is victimized, never believed, and up against the odds to speak a truth to power (Boys will be Boys), “Laserbeams” is a transition – a moment of questioning one’s preconceived ‘truths’, wondering what is going to remain if that ‘truth’ is questioned, what are the repercussions? What remains? “Fragile” is a contemplation on mortality – once all is broken down, what do we have left? What still connects us? And then “The Heretic” is a post-script – what does one do when one must speak the truth even if it means losing everything?

Inner reference points? Well, I’m not a “christian artist’ (I actually despise that term), but my reference point is Christ. What I mean is that I still try to refer to the one who always found himself among the broken, the lost, the failed, the abandoned, the loser, and spoke that good news to them – to us – ‘I see you – I know you – you are more than what you are called, what you are labeled, what you are seen as. Man, to me, there’s nothing else. But it has to be connected with the real, felt, experience of the wounded.

I can give a few specific examples for this record — “Boys will be Bcoys” is directly connected to stories from women I know who were vicitmized by sexual violence. That violence affects every aspect of a person, including dignity and sense of worth. I believe Jesus is with the survivors of that and calls the perpetrators (including those who idly stand by and do nothing) to repentance. “Fragile” is very personal. I lost my sister in law, Naomi this year – a week from her 33rd birthday she succumbed to her battle with colorectal cancer. I also lost a dear friend, suddenly, at the beginning of 2017, to a heart attack – way too young, way too sudden. I believe Jesus is with the ones suffering, for whom pat “Christian” answers bring no relief.

3. The record has a rough hewed dynamic; as if the songs were written very quickly and then recorded as quickly, thus capturing a magic and instilling a sense of urgency. Am I onto something?
The delivery and “work ethic” here seem to be part of the EP’s themes as well.

Joel: Its interesting, because all but “The Heretic” were written and even performed for some time before the recording of them. In that way it is different that “Closet Songs”. The immediacy was more in the arrangement. “Hey, see what that Casio MT68 sounds like there — cool! Go with it!” Now -I’ll admit that, more than on other records, I did obsess a bit over some panning, effects, etc. But never in order to make a ‘clean record’. The idea was it to be weird, even unsettling at times, I guess.. Fragile is really the best word for it. I didn’t want it to be ‘guy with a guitar’ at all. I wanted to evoke a space different than that. So, except for “The Heretic” its a bit of fun with sound, within my very limited, very ‘indie’ home setting. I mean, I’ll be honest – it was recorded on free Audacity software on a super old Mac, using a couple of mics, a keyboard legit from the 80s that my father in law gave me, and, well… of course my tele, vox, and martin. But its great fun to work within limits. I find it exhilarating. I’ve been encouraged by quite a few folks I really admire to try to never lose the sense of urgency – of capturing the take – of worrying less about perfection and more about the feel the ‘it’ of a song. I’m still learning. And what you hear on TTT is me pushing some of the boundaries of my own knowledge and equipment – so, I could listen back a few years from now and think “Oh, man! I wish I would have done that this way.. It would have sounded cleaner”or whatever…. But… I dunno… in the times we’re living in I just decided there’s no guarantee of anything.. And.. well.. Nothing new under the sun, so there never is… so go for it.. Try at least.. To tell the truth while you can.

Tell The Truth is up for a listen and or purchase at: https://joeldavidweir.bandcamp.com/album/tell-the-truth

Adam Klein/Speaking of songs, songwriting & his new album “Archer’s Arrow”

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http://www.adam-klein.com

I’m sitting down with Athens, Ga. singer-songwriter Adam Klein to talk about his new album, Archer’s Arrow. It’s a fine album, a great ride. There is an unstudied quality about it, a loose-ness that is endearing.

Adam wears many hats being not only a touring troubadour, but also the founder of Cowboy Angel Music and co-founder and co-organizer of Athens Americana music festival.

Bill: Adam, by my count Archer’s Arrow is album #6 for yes? I think it’s your best yet, by the way. There’s a maturing in the writing and themes, and economy in the way your deliver the songs on this one. The more reflective songs on the album have a transparency and wistful-ness that are the starting places of a great song.
Of course there’s a danger is to become grandiose, but you don’t seen to fall prey to that.
As I said, there’s a confidence on Archer’s Arrow that surfaces with a new effortless-ness.

There’s a lot of “love & loss” kinda of songs, or songs that bespeak a certain confusion about “where do I stand with you?” Good wells to draw from.

Am I hearing this right? Do you find the songs here gleaned from the razor edges of your own experiences or are you a writer who is vicariously creating your characters? What attracts you to these themes?

Adam: I think you are right, and both producer Bronson Tew and Bruce Watson, owner of Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, MS, where some of the recording happened and where the record was mixed and mastered, commented on that. The lyrics are a bit more raw here, a bit darker than some of my other albums. There are relationship songs here, songs with big questions about myself and others. It’s a kind of writing I want to do, but not for every song or project. But I read an interview with Lucinda Williams in which she speaks about the importance of sharing yourself fully in your music- making yourself vulnerable, putting it all out there in its ragged glory, as Neil Young would say. A number of songs on my previous albums flirt with that type of vulnerability- they express something real about myself, share a heartfelt emotion of the present or past, a longing and nostalgia- but I don’t think my songs have generally shone a light into my innermost thoughts or feelings and shown a darkness. It’s in each of us, I’d imagine. The part(s) of ourselves with which we struggle, the aspects of our character of which we’re not proud, the ways we fall short, the questioning. I tend to be guarded when it comes to such things, but they seeped out in some of these songs. Songwriting is, to a certain degree, where I wrestle with and confront myself. And the next collection of songs I plan on recording go deeper in. Things are laid bare. But I think there are also moments of hope, warmth, and light on Archer’s Arrow as well as on the next album.

Milan Kundera writes that his characters are the unexplored possibilities of himself. I like that a lot, and think there’s an element of that in many of the songs I write. Not every word is true, not every “I” is me, but the songs are extensions of a feeling, a longing, a drive, aspects of my life. And because they are my writings and contain an initial, if not full, spark from my life, I’m satisfied that it’s authentic and real. So essentially, a song can be or stem from a pure expression but also explore a character and an “unlived” possibility of myself.

Bill: You’ve mapped out a quota of particular types of songs here, yes?
Adam: I think there’s a place for everything. So my records tend to have a number of meaningful, nostalgic type songs but will also have a couple fun numbers. My friend Paul Ford, who now plays with Jonathan Byrd as part of his crack band The Pickup Cowboys, just shared an idea with me recently and said he finds this in my albums. The notion of 30/30/30 (this is not a baseball metaphor)- that an album (or a live show) can have about a third of its songs be songs that make you think (story songs, topical songs, or those touching on a history), another third songs that make you feel, and another third songs that are just plain fun. I remember I wrote “Say You Don’t Love Me” while in Mali and thought the words were so early-Beatles-esque and just too sappy to actually record. But I came across the typed page with those lyrics years later and thought they fit the vibe and feel of what I anticipated the album being, so I brought it in and we turned it into a really catchy, cool tune. It’s not a serious song that says anything real about me. It’s not “true”, so to speak, but who cares? “Radar Man” is similar- weird lyric and a rocking tune that’s not born from “my voice”. But that one actually is particularly special because I adapted the lyrics from a poem my grandfather wrote while serving as a radar repair tech in Philippines in World War II. My family found the poem, and other writings, while cleaning up my grandparents’ place, and I turned it into a song and sang it for him at his 90th birthday party. Pretty cool. And I love the song, it’s just another neat rocker.

I’m sure I’ll do more story-songs a la “Naduah”, “Nomie Wise”, “Dead Cow Hill” (from 2008’s Western Tales & Trails), and “Of Pirates & Vagabonds” (from 2010’s Wounded Electric Youth), and I have a collection of songs now that’s building that touches upon West Virginia lore and Georgia history, actually. But my current writing zone is mainly focused on “facing myself” and trying to create songs that are very real, vulnerable, and possess personal truths. If the songs can translate, I think listeners may find a lot that they can connect with and perhaps be moved by.

As far as these themes of love and loss, well, I think it’s a rich well to go to, as you mention. When you break it down, it’s what we have and what we share. (Did you see the viral video recently of Bob Dylan speaking to the IBM Watson “machine”? The machine tells Dylan it listened to all his lyrics and its analysis is that Dylan’s major themes are that time passes and love fades. Dylan’s response? “Well that sounds about right.”) Again, I’d like to think my songs tend to come from feelings and experiences that must be lived to access. It’s good to write about who you are and what you know, what you’ve seen. Some of my songs take place in a different age or a place I’ve never been, but through my travels or reading I allow myself to try to access another time or land and explore that.

Bill: The album possesses a band dynamic that seems very attuned to your approach with writing and recording. You bring the songs fleshed out on acoustic, it sounds like and letting the band “have it’s say.” It’s good chemistry & playing by the core members with just the right embellishment to the songs. It all seems to take the songs on Archer’s Arrow to a good place and one that was arrived at very naturally. I like that. Was the projected outcome something you were conscious of or was it something more like an evolution…?

Adam: That was definitely the approach for this album. I like to bring in players whom I respect and want them to go at it, find their voice, and bring themselves into the songs. I’ll have various melodic ideas I’d like to have in there, and I may or may not know which instrument should carry the melody that’s in my head, but I don’t think I’m heavy-handed in the process.

But this album did have quite the evolution. It was initially recorded with a great group of guys outside Athens and after laying down the basic tracks (we played live- acoustic guitar, vocal, electric guitar, drums and bass) and getting a quick mix, I felt it needed some sonic attention and assistance. There was bleed between instruments, my vocals needed to be considered scratch vocals, the acoustic guitar sound was a problem. So I shelved it for a while until I could get Bronson Tew, my friend and producer/engineer, to come to Athens to work on the tracks. I redid acoustic guitar and vocals and he worked his engineering wizardy on the material- EQ, compression, phase relationship, and whatever else. He cleaned up the bleed and the electric, added some more electric guitar, and it began to be transformed into a really great sounding record. He took it back to Dial Back Sound and brought in some players to add to it. He built three of the songs out there (“Boybutante Dreams”, “Wild Goose Chase”, and “Heartbreak Airplane”). I’d played and sang these songs solo acoustic and he and some of the Jimbo Mathus guys in Water Valley added parts. Bronson played drums and demanded that the bass and drums be recorded together to capture a performance and “feel”, and keys were added, guitars, etc. That tells you how much trust I have in Bronson. As he says, “You set ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em down”. He’s a great friend and unbelievable musician and engineer. So what we hear, ultimately, is a testament to his ear and work. He deserves to be acknowledged for his production- wouldn’t have been the same or as great a record without him. And I think he took a real liking and interest to this album in particular because the circumstances were so unique. He was bound by the initial live recording which had a real loose feeling, as you mentioned. Almost like the song could collapse at any time. And that’s because the guys were just hearing the song for the first few times and trying to work their way through. So Bronson had to work within the framework of the drums, bass, and guitar already laid down (except for the three tracks he built out in MS), and turn it into a quality sonic record. To me, and most everyone who’s commented, its sounds kick ass.

Bill: Tell me about how you assembled the group. There is an unstudied quality about the way these songs are delivered, a loose-ness that is endearing. Were these close friends who were familiar with your work?

Adam: The guys who played on it were the remnants of Athens pop-rock band Nutria. Now most of them play in The Eskimos and a few other projects. I liked the fact that they brought this really cool pop sensibility and that the songs would likely have a certain edge, a thickness to the electric guitar. And that rhythm section is so locked in- especially for songs they didn’t really know. It’s crazy. Jason Eshelman on drums is so steady and locked in, Andy Pope on bass was also totally spot on, and Dave Weiglein on electric guitar was just jamming and played such great parts and lines on songs “unheard”. I showed them a song, we played it two or three times, and then started recording. It was definitely unstudied and loose, and I’m really happy with the feel. But I wouldn’t say they were necessarily familiar with my work, and the style they brought was a real departure from previous recordings, so I’m grateful to them for being so locked in. I knew it had something to it even after taking away the mixes and hearing the sonic deficiencies. But they gave it a feel at its core that Bronson could later build upon and accentuate.

Bill: Athens, Ga. Great town. Simply a wonderful community with a vital music scene.
No “scene” can be separated from the individuals who are a part of it. It’s a very non-static thing, liquid, always changing, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. And no one scene is for everybody or every genre of music. Given your long-relationship with the town, and you approach to Americana music, has you experience of the scene there been a good one?

Adam: Well put. Yes, I still love Athens and its music scene, and I’d say it’s been a good experience playing there and being part of it. It’s my hometown. If you cull through my songs, including songs on Archer’s Arrow, you’ll hear clear references to Athens. “Heartbreak Airplane” name checks the Taco Stand and R.E.M.. Some of my nostalgic songs take place there and I’ll keep going back in my mind and my writings, I’m sure. Americana’s got a following in Athens. Bands like Drive-By Truckers, Packway Handle, Lera Lynn, and acts that Americana likes to claim like Hardy Morris or The Whigs or Futurebirds- they do well. When Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, or a Dawes come to town, there’s great energy and a packed house. And we’ve seen great, passionate turnouts to our local festival event, Athens Americana. No shortage of solid bands and activity there. You’ll note that short list is all acts with a following which appeal to a crossover of the young, collegiate crowd and an “older” audience. Many lesser known yet top notch Americana and folk singer/songwriters or acts, though, may have trouble making waves in Athens. I’m glad someone like Jonathan Byrd has built such a great following there. But many others who deserve to play for a large audience there don’t get the support they need to come to town. If Townes van Zandt had played Athens in his later years, I’d guess he would’ve had a small to medium-sized crowd. Greg Brown might not have a big crowd. Slaid Cleaves may not have the audience he deserves in Athens. So it’s clear that there are certain tastes that are more prominent in Athens- either the flavor-of-the-month indie “it” thing amongst the college and young adult crowd, or the longstanding Athens favorites like an Of Montreal and Drivin N’ Cryin’. And they all deserve it. Kevn Kinney? He’s one of my musical heroes. As an Athenian I’m really proud of our heritage of bands. But it’s a challenging place to make a living off song-based, nuanced, folk and americana music. I think it’s easier to see that with some distance.

But every scene, as you mention, is unique, shifts, and has certain sweet spots musically. Athens is full of great people, great musicians young, old, and in between, and it’s a special, supportive scene with a lot of camaraderie and accessibility. Music lives there. It’s a testing ground- a good and fulfilling scene for the casual music player and a number of tight, talented bands are constantly emerging from the hundreds messing around in town. Plus as far as lifestyle goes it’s really a great place to be based and tour from. I’m proud to have Athens players on most of my records and want to keep working with my friends there. I came of age watching some of these guys play. I’m living in Atlanta now, and I do miss the people and these unique aspects that make the Athens music and arts community so strong. It’s influenced me and is my musical home, so I consider it a positive experience to be part of the scene and make music there. I try to get back and be at least peripherally involved as much as I can. Now if only we could pack out Hendershot’s for a David Olney or Bill Mallonee we’d be a folk powerhouse in addition to a college rock mecca.

Bill: Adam, is there anything else about the new album you want to elaborate on, tell us about?

Adam: Bill, it’s a pleasure and an honor to chat music with you, and I appreciate you listening to the record and asking these thoughtful questions. I’ll be on the lookout for the next sets of albums you churn out. Will you print this if I say you’re an American treasure, a brilliant artist, and one of my favorite songwriters? (I guess I’ll find out..)

Bill: Thanks very much for doing this interview. I wish you all the best and much success on the new album, Adam. Well done!

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“DOLOROSA” The new Bill Mallonee & The High Desert Freaks Band download album liner notes.

Dolorosa, by Bill Mallonee
“Superb…beautiful…brilliant…” ~ Steve Ruff/DownTheLineZine
Listen to the entire album at: DOLOROSA.
~ DOLOROSA ~
You have here 12 songs plus 4 bonus tracks. Full band. Over an hour. (And that’s not counting the 4 bonus tracks.) Definitely an “Autumn record.” Dolorosa is a “big” record for me. I think it’s album number 57. (Honest.)
The SongStoryMusicMeaningReality is an absolute obsession for me.
“She”(the album) is reflective, melancholic, but sober, sturdy & strong. An Autumnal venture, to be sure.
The album is over an hour long.
Lots to listen to and think about. A lot to digest, folks.
I know we live in an attention challenged culture. But, I’ve got some brilliant fans who still listen to music as if it mattered.
I am always been deeply appreciative of your attentive ear to the music & lyrics.
I won’t let you down. Promise.
Maybe it’s my way of saying “Kilroy was here.” Painted on a crumbling vacant church’s steeple.
Good luck. “As simple as it sounds, it’s still true: You get comfortable being who you are…and you make peace with who you aren’t.” ~ bill mallonee
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This album draws it’s bearings & inspirations in equal parts from 2 points of reference. One is the vernacular meaning of the word “dolorosa” & the other is from the Via Dolorosa.
1. do·lo·ro·so [ˌdɒləˈrəʊsəʊ]
adv. & adj. Music
~ In a mournful or plaintive manner. Used chiefly as a direction.
~ Music performed in a sorrowful manner
[Italian: dolorous] 2.The Via Dolorosa (Latin,”Way of Grief”, “Way of Sorrows”, “Way of Suffering” or simply “Painful Way”) is a street, in two parts, within the Old City of Jerusalem, held to be the path that Jesus walked, carrying his cross, on the way to his crucifixion. “They say in heaven you’ll get your real name carved into a precious stone
Drifting through all these cities of ruin on your way back home…”
                                                                                        ~ from “Cities of Ruin” by Bill Mallonee 1. “The Neck Was Worn Clean”
First thing I noticed was her “finish.” It was worn clean off the neck, non-existent in most places. An indicator of a well-played & well-loved guitar. The wearing was even up and down the neck. Rhythm playing & more solo oriented gestures given equal weight. Again, a sign of a well-versed player. The fella who sold it to me said his father owned it and played the guitar quite well. Thus, a great “find” became an even greater honor.
The year? 1947. A Gibson ES-125. It originally belonged to Mr. Shepherd who started the world famous Chick Piano in Athens, Ga. back in the day. His son, Van, was kind enough to sell it to me a few months back. It has been a treasure of inspiration.
I used it all over “Dolorosa.” (Yes, I leaned heavily on my beloved George Harrison Rickenbaker, as well. They were good friends, the Gibson ES-125 & the Ric.  But the germination of all the songs started on the Gibson ES.
I let the strings go dull, “thuddy,” dusty & heavy.
The sound & feel tapped into, well…a spirit that carried the day here…
You’ll “see.” 2. “And Our Hearts Nodded”
You write a different song at 50 than you do at 25. I like to think you write a better one. When the illusions & lame promises of rock & roll wear off one starts the untidy (often sad) ritual of unpacking one’s own baggage and seeing if you really have anything to say.
And if you’re lucky?
Well, you’re likely to find that the prophets & troubadours of old and the wizened voices of the past had most of it right all along. All those “voices” that have always linger around the periphery of your spirit for a long time. Not hip, per se. Not “current.”
Just “true.”
It’s a “voice,” often collective and unified. with those old prophets and troubadours. Their words, their “prayers, their way of delivering. their “take” on things.
It’s one helluva chorus to give ear to.
One best heed. It does beg a question:
How did those prophets, poets and troubadours “know?”
How did they give nomenclature to the truths that cascade in rivers with us?
How were they able to enshrine those same truths we so often close our ears to. Pain, suffering deprivation, mortality.
Why were they able to listen to the voices on the highways within and those on the highways they trod?
Here’s the kicker: They did it without propaganda and manipulation. They did it without Elmer Gantry-ing it.
They simply said what needed to be said…and our hearts nodded. That’s some of the feel and spirit, I’ve always struggled to make plain in my work. It’s what I’m drawn to into works of others.
And it feels like it’s born health fruit here on “Dolorosa.”

3. “Sad Songs Keep The Devil Away” ~ Jay Farrar
I do have a feeling that dogs me. And it probably dictated the path the songs here on Dolorosa took and on the last few albums.
I wrote them as they “showed up,” and as the lyrics pushed to the surface. I edited very little.
Songwriting has something akin to absolution & (perhaps) exorcism to it. At the very least, one is engaged in endeavor od “naming” something heretofore intangible, buried, unknown. Nomenclature.
At it’s best that’s the reason I do it and have done so for 22 years.
Call it an effort to keep the demons at arm’s length and not run to the liquor cabinet so much.

You look at your life. You inventory the things done & things left undone.

4. “The Astronomy of Spirit.”

And then you look up at the expanse of stars. The quiet of the high deserts in New Mexico drives it all home.

Does anyone watch over us?
Does it listen to our cries? Does it respond?
And if you should answer “Yes,” then is it Something/Someone deeply “personal?”
God, I hope so.
I have always so desperately wanted it to be so.
Always feared damnation.

Always felt I was the best candidate for it.
Why is that?

It depresses me that things aren’t as obvious as i’d like them to be.
Like “what’s next?”
In my life, too many people have “left the party too soon.”
I wish they’d check in once in a spell; just to say how they’re doing; tell me how it is there.

It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
Me? I’m glad for those for whom “religious questions” are resolved with facile-ness & proof-text ease. There are those who toss out well-meaning answers with a smugness that lacks compassion.
A quote attributed to St. Francis says that “the loudest Gospel you’ll ever preach is the one you preach with your life.

Implied in that brilliant quote (it seems) is that perceptions about “life” are also the variables that Faith/non-faith work with.https://en.wordpress.com/post/
For me faith and unbelief have always slept in the same bed for as long as I can remember.

5. “Signs of The Cross & Flirting With Absurdity”
There is so much about Life & Love, Passion & Mystery that says: “There’s more. No, it’s not up for grabs”
One of my heroes, Martin Luther, was in some ways was the first “modern man,” (see Eric Erikson’s “Young Man Luther); Luther was always staring down the devil; that ‘entity” that meant him nothing but harm & confusion.
And the tool Luther knew the devil used most effectively against us was that of guilt & despair.

Sure, artists “flirt” with such states of the heart. Often, they flirt & anesthetize themselves at the same time.
And it’s good to get beneath the skin of what our brothers & sisters feel when the world seems a meaningless and a cold void, absent of God. One can’t live “with” or “in” the darkness forever.

And (by God) when you yourself finally sense the weight of such futility & sadness you realize that it’s nothing to dally with either.
You “counter,” you pray, you wrestle & cling to whatever Light & Love & Compassion you can find.
In my experience that Beacon sometimes even shows his Face.
Albums can be Light, Love & Compassion.
Religion…with a 6-string drag.
A debtor to Grace and more Grace and…

“Sad songs keep the devil away.”

Dolorosa.

6. “That Same Ancient Disease”
It’s “Faith & Courage that gets ya’ through.” ~ “‘Til I Knew It All By Heart.”
And as to Fear, whether it’s driven by “bad religion” or some deep personal anguish?
Courage again. You do what you can to cast It aside.

Fear and Distrust: Are we not all afflicted with that same ancient disease?
Celebrate your “you-ness,” friends. Celebrate it WITH friends.
Are we not all included in the same Grace & whole-ness a suffering God is waiting to bestow?

The harder edges & vicissitudes of life have led me here.
25 years ago, I arrived as a young hungry songwriter. I left as a blessed man.

Somehow it all forces you to your knees, literally and figuratively.
You learn to pray without ceasing.
You learn to walk a way of being thankful.
You learn to “fight the good fight.” To stay at your post.
And you start, (however stumbling) to practice Compassion and extend Mercy to all you fellow travelers.
(The poets, prophets and troubadours concur.)

(The poets, prophets and troubadours concur.)

Grace & Mercy & Peace.
The last word.
I’ll bet on those three…forever.

Love to all,
bill mallonee
Fall/Winter 2013

credits
“DOLOROSA”
released 12 November 2013

Bill Mallonee: Electric & acoustic guitars, vocals, bass, drums, harp, organ
Muriah Rose: Piano, organ, electric piano, string arrangements

“Detours To A Better Highway” by bill mallonee

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(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
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“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

BLESSED JULIAN PEERS OVER THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

BLESSED JULIAN PEERS OVER THE EDGE OF THE WORLD  

lumens awake to flicker & glow
storms & worst case scenario
a lesson of lamps & circus flint
the oil of your life…may it n’er be spent

what’s dispersed, illumined, hidden & shown
wave and wind invisible code
tarnished compass shot & every map you brought
worn & weathered creed dissolved like salt

Ending arrives with her sails all torn
cargo long ago thrown overboard
capsized nomenclature, harbored griefs
coral like thorns a crown beneath

and me? now, debonair and skinned
hanging on by salty filament
holding breath through trough of pulse & swell
by the lantern of all shall be most well
by the lantern of all shall be most well

                                                        ~ bill mallonee

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”

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“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