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Two Bluegrass Players


I love these old photos of players wearing suits. Their faces look so miserable but you know when they start to play they are happy. I did this as a companion piece to Kerfe’s lovely tribute to Ralph Stanley. Later I’m going to get my husband to film me singing either “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or “Down to the River to Pray”. RIP Ralph Stanley. He always said his voice was a gift from the Lord above. 

The photo I used–off the computer screen. 

O Death (for Ralph Stanley 1927-2016)

ralph photo s

some say yes
some say no

some welcome Death
some invite it
some force it to stay

some say wait
I’m not ready

some laugh at Death
some curse it

some are too surprised
to speak

is Death cold
or is it hotter
than Hell
or is it on
the borderline
between freezing
and melting

does Death have hands

does it embrace
or punch
does it strangle or
does it cradle

does it bathe
in darkness or
does it bathe
in light

is it a prayer

is it a question

what is this
that I can’t see


Ralph Stanley, who died last week at the age of 89, was a performer of traditional mountain music with a unique and powerful voice.  His popularity soared after his version of “O Death” was included in the film “O Brother Where Art Thou”.  Hearing him sing it will, to paraphrase Carole King, chill your soul right down to the marrow.  But his legacy reaches far beyond one song: using both his voice and his own banjo style, he helped nourish new generations of musicians to preserve the music of the Appalachian region, a singular blend of the songs of its many ancestors.

You can read the words to “O Death” and hear Ralph Stanley perform it here.

Come Together

come together s

the day
sounds singing
of grace saved and
the light sheltering
earth the way the elements
are combined in mystery
like blurred echoes remembering
music we have never heard before

Music of the spheres they call it
like the mind contains mirrors that
are reflecting vibrating
earth as it moves around
the cosmic wheel part
of no known time
sounds that hold
the full

It’s hard to know what to say anymore about people killing people.

come together close up s

Friday, after listening to James Taylor’s beautiful version of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” I started thinking about the line “all the sounds of the earth are like music”, and the musical “Oklahoma” in general.   Beginning with the hope in that song, the musical runs the gamut of human behavior and emotion.  As nature holds all kinds of music in both its wonder and terror.

I’ve been wanting to do some more responses to all Nina’s amazing mandalas, and I reached back to one I previously referenced in a darker way.  Darkness/light: intertwined.  Love or war?  We can choose.  Let’s come together, not apart.


My Name Is…

prince guitar s

doves cry purple rain
as symbol or royalty
nothing compares 2

prince profile s

Too soon.

poetry month

Junk Mail Art: Crossroads

crossroads s

…because it’s Eric Clapton’s birthday.  And because any time is a good time to celebrate Robert Johnson.

Crossroads is from a group of 13 mythological junk mail art pieces I did, inspired by Boria Sax’s book “Imaginary Creatures”.  You can see the first one I posted here.

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy, “Save me if you please.”

I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride.
Down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride.
Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by.

Well I’m going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
You can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside.

Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
You can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside.

You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy, Willie Brown.*
Run, you can run, tell my friend-boy, Willie Brown.*
And I’m staying at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down.

I went down to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above “Have mercy, save poor Bob, if you please.”

Mmmmm, standin’ at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride
Standin’ at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride
Didn’t nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by

Mmm, the sun goin’ down, boy, dark gon’ catch me here
oooo, ooee, eee boy, dark gon’ catch me here
I haven’t got no lovin’ sweet woman that love and feel my care

You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy, Willie Brown.
You can run, tell my friend-boy, Willie Brown.
Lord, that I’m standin’ at the crossroad, babe, I believe I’m sinking down.

Listen to “Crossroads” here.

David Bowie (1947-2016)

bowie collage 1s

Planet Earth is blue,
but let’s dance.  Put on your red
shoes, turn, face the strange.

What a Wonderful World (for Louis Armstrong)

louis s

Lonesome sweet stomp got
heebie got jeebie got news
good news    spread the word

I know it’s been played to death, but Louis Armstrong’s recording of “What a Wonderful World” gets me every time I hear it.  Fine sentiments for the January doldrums.

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day and the dark sacred night
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world”
–“What a Wonderful World” (written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss)

Louis could even make the blues sound like good news.

You can see three more of my jazz haiku and portraits on “The song is…” blog here.

Self Portrait #11 (after Marlene Dumas)

self portrait 11 comp

This birthday card by Dumas seemed to call out for my high school graduation photo.

According to Wikipedia, the San Francisco psychedelic poster art style flourished from about 1966 to 1972.  I graduated in 1970, but the photo was taken in 1969, just a few months after Woodstock.

“We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden”
–Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”

“If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”
–Scott McKenzie, “San Francisco”, 1967

“Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere”
–The Cowsills, “The Flower Girl Song”, 1967

OK, so I was in Maryland, did not go to Woodstock, and had never been to San Francisco.  But the musical spirit was everywhere.

Drawn in the Dark

drawn in the dark

piano, guitar, bass, and…that’s the drummer on the right.

Jean Ritchie 1922-2015

jean ritchie 1s

My pretty Saro:
Now is the cool of the day.
High hills.  Shady grove.

Like many growing up in the 1960’s, I spent hours in my room listening to music and trying to learn to play guitar.  I don’t remember the spark for my interest in folk music, but Jean Ritchie was among those singers of traditional American songs that taught me their words and melodies.  She often sang her ballads a cappella, but she also used a mountain dulcimer as an accompaniment to her voice.  I loved the sound of it, and eventually I bought my own.

jean ritchie 2s

Oh little sparrow,
Riddle me this:  black waters.
The unquiet grave.

When I heard she had died a few weeks ago, I pulled my dulcimer out of the closet for the first time in many many years.  I had to look up the tunings, but once it was in one of the minor modes of Aolian, I surprised myself by remembering how to play “Shady Grove”.

jean ritchie 3s

Jean Ritchie came from a large rural Kentucky family known for its singing, and one of the gifts she left for us were the songs and hymns she learned as a child.  I still love those Child Ballads.  Her simple and direct renditions are among the best.