Happy Summer! June 21 is the Summer Solstice, the official start of summer and the longest day of the year. It’s also the wedding anniversary for my lovely bride and me. That’s not a coincidence. I had to pick a day that I’d remember, and I love Summer so June 21st made sense. (It also helped that the church was available on that date.) I tease Tina all the time that “the longest day of the year” was also “the longest day of my life” – but really we both know it was the luckiest day of my life.
This year is our 20th anniversary. Two full decades. A “score” in Abraham Lincoln’s parlance. 1997 seems like a long time ago (4 kids will do that to you) but it also seems like just yesterday in many ways.
My man John Hiatt captures the daily adventures of married life quite well in this pretty little ditty. It has some great lines, like “I always thought our house was haunted ’cause nobody said boo to me” and
“Now I’m in my car
I got the radio on
I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat
‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts”
But my favorite lines are here:
Time is short and here’s the damn thing about it
You’re gonna die, gonna die for sure
And you can learn to life with love or without it
But there ain’t no cure
While we’re on an Americana jaunt, let’s keep the momentum going with a great duet from Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.
Last weekend I went back to Arkansas for the first time in nearly 30 years, for a high school reunion. While I was there, I just had to drive past my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas (population: 129). I hadn’t seen it since 1985.
It’s changed a bit.
You can barely see the front of the house from the road in front of it.
And there’s cattle fencing all around the house. Because my dad sold the house to the farmer next door, and when my dad moved out (circa 1999) to live with my older sister in Brooklyn, Farmer Ocil just extended the cow pasture that used to be next to our yard, and used the house to store feed and supplies. Ocil died in 2012, and whoever took over is just letting the place go to seed. So the house is abandoned, and falling down. I had to peek through the overgrowth by the fence line on one side of the house just to try to snap a few photos.
Did it make me sad to see my old childhood home in such a sorry state? Sure. But then again, it was never a showpiece, even in its prime. And in an “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” way, it’s fine. That house served its purpose for many years – as a safe harbor for Herb and his four young kids after his wife died. The yard was a place for us to play football, and basketball, and baseball, and catch frogs (and run from snakes), and feed persimmons to the horses next door. But we outgrew it, went to college in Boston and and Omaha and Cincinnati, and really never looked back.
Who cares if cows (and bulls) are now roaming our old stomping grounds?
The house can fall, but the home lives on. And that’s no b.s.
“Where does it lie this reverie
like a distant land
it shines forever in my heart
we all go home again…”
Do yourself a favor and carve out 40 minutes and 17 seconds today to listen to the new album from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, called The Nashville Sound.
Jason’s been on a roll for the past few years, chronicling his sobriety, falling in love, becoming a dad… and doing it all with a unique perspective that comes from the crossroads of the Literary South and the country backroads of northern Alabama. The closest comparison I can make is he’s a male version of Lucinda Williams, and I adore Lu so that’s high praise in my book. His sound could probably be classified as “country” but his writing goes so much deeper than the truck tailgates and cutoff jeans of the “bro-country” set that you can’t even put them in the same category.
In the 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote:
It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.
Jason’s been bleeding onto the page for years now… with fantastic musical accompaniment… and it’s music to my ears. His sixth studio album is another stellar offering.
Here he is rocking out:
… and here’s his softer side:
Watch the entire session to appreciate the full spectrum of Jason and the 400 Unit: