For Deep Roots: International Americana

'Deep Roots Magazine' logo (2017)I mentioned some months ago that I’d be writing for Deep Roots Magazine, and so I have been. Particularly, as I also mentioned a little while later, I’d been focusing on something called “international Americana” — that is to say:

…music performed generally using acoustic instruments, something like country, something like folk, sometimes incorporating elements of blues and/or bluegrass, often for small, intimate audiences rather than large-scale ones… modest music, and it’s music which springs not from glitzy high-flown impulses, but from simple ones. But — maybe surprisingly — it’s not always in English.

The article in question went up at the Deep Roots site a few days ago. Below, a brief summary:

  • A discussion about what the term “Americana” in means, as a musical genre. (Maybe predictably, I sort of back into that discussion: I begin by considering a band called “Leningrad Cowboys,” an example not of musicians overseas employing Americana-musical tropes, but of importing musicians from overseas into American culture… in America.)
  • Asking — and perhaps answering — some questions about why musicians overseas might even be interested in a native version of Americana music in the first place. The approach here is to consider recording-industry statistics for Australasia as of a few years ago — just before the establishment of the Americana Music Association-Australia.
  • A look at a wonderful resource for anyone thinking of investigating this music themselves: The International Americana Music Show (TIAMS), a podcast/public-radio show produced by a native Scot now living in the US.
  • …and finally, a survey of opinions from international artists who’ve been dubbed (at one time or another, rightly or wrongly, by choice or otherwise) as “Americana” in style. These were the artists I “spoke” with, via email, and feature in the article (in the no-particular-order in which they’re first mentioned in the article):

You can find that article here, at the Deep Roots site. Lots of music over there!

In addition to what’s in the Deep Roots piece, I’ll also be posting here, from time to time, even more information about these talented performers. They were so generous with their time in answering my questions, and yet there were so many of them that I couldn’t give each the attention they deserved!

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Wait

Image: 'Kitsuno' (uncredited image)

[Image: painting (?) by an unknown artist, of an encounter between a sleeping man and what appears to be a kitsuno disguised as a woman. This looks like a photograph of a painting; if so, I don’t know who took the photo, either. (I found it at this page on Tumblr, which has numerous other images of the same creature, from other sources.) For more about the kitsuno legend (a version of which is alluded to in Hannah Sanghee Park’s poem, below), see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

The death of self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will’s spirits and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with a stilled tongue. Fuge, tace, quiesce. The waiting itself is the thing.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and:

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

(John Berger [source])

and:

Alcaic

This forest in May. It haunts my whole life:
the invisible moving van. Singing birds.
In silent pools, mosquito larvae’s
furiously dancing question marks.

I escape to the same places and same words.
Cold breeze from the sea, the ice-dragon’s licking
the back of my neck while the sun glares.
The moving van is burning with cool flames.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

[Read more…]

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A New Writing, Um… Adventure

'Deep Roots Magazine' logo (2017)The old-time followers of RAMH probably know about this already, via other means. But I thought casual visitors here might be interested in a new outlet for my writing about music: as of this week, I’ve been brought into the fold at Deep Roots Magazine.

As you might guess from the name of both the magazine’s current incarnation and its original one — The Bluegrass Special — the site focuses on music, particularly music with roots in American history: folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and all the many spin-off genres and sub-genres (folk rock, singer-songwriter, soul, and so on). But as you can see from even a cursory poking-about there, the Deep Roots mission is quite broad. Heck, you don’t even have to poke about; just read the sub-title/tagline: Roots Music & Meaningful Matters. If you’re really an old-timer, you may have noticed RAMH‘s own original tagline, back in 2008:

Original (2008) RAMH tagline, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine

That feels like a bit of happy serendipity to me now.

Yes, Deep Roots still covers roots music (etc.). However, it also regularly features classical music; jazz; gospel; children’s literature (reprinting content from old RAMH favorite Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast); and, well, evidently pretty much anything else that its editors might consider culturally meaningful. (Among its wide-ranging departments: the “Charlie Chaplin Moment” series; “Away Out There,” posts about astronomy; and “Talking Animals,” regular material offered by the host of the NPR show of the same name, about pets and other animals… You can see why the site appeals to me even without my actual participation in it.)

My own brief, at the moment anyhow, is to cover… well, to cover… um… well, I guess you could say to do pretty much a deeper, broader, meatier version of what I’ve been doing with music here. Yes, I’ll be continuing to pursue my primary genre of choice in recent years — roots, a/k/a (not entirely accurately) “Americana.” My first Deep Roots feature is a full-blown review of Sarah Beatty’s Bandit Queen album, released in February. (My RAMH post about the title song’s acoustic version appeared here, shortly before its official release date.)

  • My inaugural Deep Roots Magazine feature: “Songs From the Heart and the Headlines” (Sarah Beatty and Bandit Queen)
  • For even more details about Sarah Beatty and her music, also see the annotated version of my full email interview with Sarah Beatty, here at RAMH

And for the record, no: I do not intend to stop my coverage here of musical topics, especially in the Music Break and What’s In a Song categories (and their offshoots). And probably needless to add, I’ll also continue my weekly Friday series of posts “about” nothing at all specific (or at least nothing at all obvious), and continue to wander around and yes, poke about into other topics that catch my interest from time to time.

Thanks as always for visiting, reading, and listening with me. (And very special thanks to the Deep Roots team, especially editor David McGee and Julie (Jules) Danielson, who made the introductions!)

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Attuned to the Frequencies of Things Other

'Tonometer (1876),' by Flickr user 'D_M_D'

[Image: “Tonometer (1876),” by Flickr user D_M_D (a/k/a sublimedutch). (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

The Night House

Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging a sickle through the tall grass—
the grass of civics, the grass of money—
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body—the house of voices—
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,

to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.

(Billy Collins [source])

and (italicized portion):

I lie here, expanding into the blackness, letting my body rest, my mind open. Oceanically, I feel waves of emotion—fear, joy, sadness—wash through me, and I feel connected with every living being. Somewhere this very moment, babies are born, fathers are dying, mothers are grieving. Yet, pervading all is a groundless awareness, delicate and strong at the same time. Everything becomes we, a beating heart with a transparent, radiant smile. And we are awake.

(Judith Simmer-Brown [source])

and:

If you spend enough time reading or writing, you find a voice, but you also find certain tastes. You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain voice like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them. And when that happens, reading those writers—not all of whom are modern… I mean, if you are willing to make allowances for the way English has changed, you can go way, way back with this—becomes a source of unbelievable joy. It’s like eating candy for the soul…

So probably the smart thing to say is that lucky people develop a relationship with a certain kind of art that becomes spiritual, almost religious, and doesn’t mean, you know, church stuff, but it means you’re just never the same.

(David Foster Wallace [source])

[Read more…]

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Book Review: Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover: 'Aurora,' by Kim Stanley RobinsonRecognize that book cover? No, I’m not referring to the whole thing — just to the idea: remind you of another science-fiction image of recent vintage?

I’ll tell you what it made me think of: this classic movie-poster shot, from Gravity. I’ve used a wallpaper-sized variant of that image as a computer desktop for several years now, which sharpens the point of the message: When you’re in space, you are really, really alone.

The main cast who populate the pages of Aurora aren’t quite as aware of their utter aloneness in space as viewers of that book cover are. True, they know they live in an interstellar spaceship, their mission’s purpose to populate a world beyond the solar system. They know the distance to their new home is vast — nearly eight light years — and the duration of their journey there likewise almost unimaginably long.

Oh, sure: how could they not know it, at least at an intellectual level? After all, when we first encounter these people, we’re seeing not the original passengers and crew, but their descendants six and seven generations removed: people who’ve never set foot on — or even seen — Earth. Their starship left the orbit of Saturn about one hundred sixty years ago. It takes only a single spacesuited trip out of an airlock — just a glance through a telescope — to tell them how isolated they are.

But the book-cover image of that starship deceives: the ship is big. I mean, forget Starship Enterprise-class big: really big. It consists of these main components:

  • The spine — that single central stem surrounded by the rings — is itself ten kilometers (six and a quarter miles) long.
  • The two outer rings: each torus-shaped outer ring (designated Ring A and Ring B) contains twelve “biomes” (about which, more shortly) — cylinders, each a kilometer in diameter and four kilometers long.
  • Six spokes connecting the spine to each ring: although their dimensions are is never specified, a seat-of-the-pants estimate would make the total diameter about eighteen to twenty kilometers. Thus, each spoke would be about nine to ten kilometers long (depending on various factors).
  • Two inner rings: these are purely structural in nature, serving to “lock” the outer rings to the spine.

Like I said: really big. And it’s populated not just by a couple hundred people, but by a couple thousand. On top of which are all the animals: Earth species which in some cases, yes, are raised as livestock, but in others are simply left feral. This ship is not just a starship; it’s an ark…

[Read more…]

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An Infinity of Reflexive Trajectories

one view of a triple torus

[Image (courtesy of Wikipedia): one of numerous graphic representations of a mathematical (and perhaps physical) space called a 3-torus (also three-torus, or triple torus). For more information, see below.]

From whiskey river:

We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value.

(Iris Murdoch [source])

…and:

Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered or scientifically detected or counted. It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they leave in ours.

(Robert Fulghum [source])

…and:

Poem to My Daughter

The sky has, is, one exit, one excuse,
and if I’m dead now that I’m saying this,
I can’t vouch for my transition from life
as having been rough or even evident.
Have I tried turning it off and then on again?
Have I tried throwing it against the wall?
Getting to know you, getting to know all
about you getting the mirror to mean
not only me, and thinking I must look
dumber than I look — dumber, then, than prose —
I walk through the laundry room regretting
getting the weekend done this way, as if
backstage, and say the name of your birthplace
as if I’d lost a hundred dollars there,
which I may have … Dear, when nowhere, don’t do
as those of us in nowhere do — just go.

(Graham Foust [source])

[Read more…]

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A (Not So) Particular Place, a (Not Very) Particular Time

'The Crossing - Downpatrick Head'

[Image: “The Crossing: Downpatrick Head, County Mayo, Ireland,” by architect Travis Price, his students, and numerous local craftsmen. For more information, see this PDF and the Catholic University of America site.]

From whiskey river:

Between where you are now and where you’d like to be there’s a sort of barrier, or a chasm, and sometimes it’s a good idea to imagine that you’re already at the other side of that chasm, so that you can start on the unknown side.

(David Bohm [source])

and:

All Winter

In winter I remember
how the white snow
swallowed those who came before me.
They sing from the earth.
This is what happened to the voices.
They have gone underground.

I remember how the man named Fire
carried a gun. I saw him
burning.
His ancestors live in the woodstove
and cry at night and are broken.
This is what happens to fire.
It consumes itself.

In the coldest weather, I recall
that I am in every creature
and they are in me.
My bones feel their terrible ache
and want to fall open
in fields of vanished mice
and horseless hooves.

And I know how long it takes
to travel the sky,
for buffalo are still living
across the drifting face of the moon.

These nights the air is full of spirits.
They breathe on windows.
They are the ones that leave fingerprints
on glass when they point out
the things that happen,
the things we might forget.

(Linda Hogan [source])

and:

After an old Hasidic master died, his followers sat around, talking about his life. One person wondered aloud, “What was the most important thing in the world for the master?” They all thought about it. Another responded, after a time, “Whatever he happened to be doing at the time.”

(Susan Murphy [source])

and:

Sayings from the Northern Ice

It is people at the edge who say things
at the edge: winter is toward knowing.

Sled runners before they meet have long talk apart.
There is a pup in every litter the wolves will have.
A knife that falls points at an enemy.
Rocks in the wind know their place: down low.
Over your shoulder is God; the dying deer sees Him.

At the mouth of the long sack we fall in forever
storms brighten the spikes of the stars.

Wind that buried bear skulls north of here
and beats moth wings for help outside the door
is bringing bear skull wisdom, but do not ask the skull
too large a question until summer.
Something too dark was held in that strong bone.

Better to end with a lucky saying:

Sled runners cannot decide to join or to part.
When they decide, it is a bad day.

(William Stafford [source])

[Read more…]

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Paying Attention to the Story that Was

Space colony of O'Neill cylinders (NASA Ames Research Center, via Wikipedia)

[Image: a so-called “space colony” consisting of a pair of O’Neill cylinders, courtesy of the NASA Ames Research Center (via Wikipedia). This image has little to do with the story (or the spaceship(s)) discussed in the post, but it felt suitably “epic” (and at least vaguely relevant).]

For a good while now — maybe a year and a half — I’ve been working on a science-fiction novel (working title: 23kpc). The action takes place almost entirely aboard an interstellar space ship, the ISS Tascheter; the protagonists, Guy and Missy Landis, are something like a spacegoing Nick and Nora Charles (cf. Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man stories, especially the films — starring William Powell and Myrna Loy — made from them).

About six months before starting 23kpc, I’d actually written a short novella, or long short story, featuring Guy and Missy and the Tascheter. That story sprang from nowhere in particular; I just wanted to try my hand at SF (again), and was at the time too distracted — by real life and the marketing (still in progress) of Seems to Fit — to focus on anything major. In fact, when I began writing it, I didn’t even know it was SF: it took me several sentences to realize it.

In the course of writing “Open and Shut,” as the original story was called, I realized many other things. I realized how little consideration I’d ever given to the practicalities of space travel, particularly from one star system to another. What would the ship have to be like? If it weren’t capable of faster-than-light (FTL) speeds, how could individual humans ever hope to survive such a journey? (I sure as hell didn’t want Guy, Missy, et al. to die en route — requiring the invention of fresh characters over and over and over…) Perhaps humans were somehow different then — evolved with significantly longer lifespans. Or perhaps there were some ways of keeping them inert for long stretches of time, à la “suspended animation”… or… or… And what about where they were going — what could they even hope to know about their destination? Had at least one other generation of humans preceded them into space? How could a “crew” of, say, a few dozen individuals, even hundreds of them, possibly keep going during a trip which might take not just decades but centuries?

And so on.

Well, I took “Open and Shut” through to the story’s end. But all those practical concerns compelled me to tackle the general project correctly, in its own right. Hence, 23kpc. It no doubt comes with its own set of problems, as I’ll realize when I re-read the whole thing (when I’m done writing the whole thing). But it’s backed by much more (read: any) research, and I think I’ve gotten a lot more of it “right.”

Still, “Open and Shut” has its virtues, especially as a seat-of-the-pants exercise. It gave me Guy and Missy, and several of the other main characters who’d show up in the novel as well. It gave me the Tascheter — in vastly different form. It gave me some of the underlying themes I’d been thinking about (e.g., the evolution of culture and language). It’s told in the present tense, and the first person (from Guy’s point of view), which makes the action feel more “immediate” (to me, anyhow). Finally, it gave me a certain clipped, smart-alecky tone which seemed well-suited to the characters. And re-reading the first few pages reminded me of how much fun I’d had back then…

What follows: the first few hundred words of that story. Hope you enjoy it, too!


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Those Happy-Go-Lucky Poor Folks: “I’ve Got Sixpence”

[Video: the credit line from the YouTube uploader says, “From the LP More Do-Re-Mi: The Songs Children Love to Sing, Kapp Records, 1963.”]

[Don’t know what this is? See the series introduction here.]

The first statement I ever heard of the “Poverty can be fun!” theme came from a 33-1/3 RPM record album my parents bought when I was a kid. The album (first described here) was one of a set — probably twelve — designed to introduce children to music of various kinds; the disc in question, I think, was called “Songs of Work” or some such.

The version in the video above is not from the album I remember. I don’t remember kids’ voices singing this song, although it has supposedly been a traditional summer-camp favorite for decades. No, my version featured a men’s chorus, strong and hearty, and you could almost imagine them marching home from the mines as they sang. It sounded more like this truncated, one-verse version, from Mitch Miller and “The Gang” (as he styled them):

Either way, whether you listen to the full-length cover or the foreshortened, you get hit with the message right there in the first two lines:

I’ve got sixpence,
Jolly, jolly sixpence…

Even if we can’t think of a single item which now can be obtained for a mere six cents, we get the point: the guy carries a mere handful of change in his sweaty workingman’s palm… and is happy about it. How can this be? We look to the rest of the first verse:

…I’ve got tuppence to spend,
and tuppence to lend,
and tuppence to send up to my wife (poor wife).

So not only does he start out with mere pennies; he looks forward to divvying his fortune up even further. A third for pleasure! a third to share! and a third, presumably, for expenses (managed by a loving — albeit poor — wife)! And if we’re still skeptical, he continues:

No cares have I to grieve me,
No pretty little girls to deceive me.
I’m happy as a king — believe me —
As [I/we] go rolling home!

The one-verse version of the song misses the finely sharpened knifepoint of the entire song, though. For with each succeeding verse, the amount of cash on hand dwindles, and he must adjust his choices accordingly:

…I’ve got fourpence
To last me all my life.

I’ve a penny to spend
And a penny to lend
And tuppence to take home to my wife, poor wife…

…I’ve got tuppence
To last me all my life.

I’ve got no pence to spend
And no pence to lend
And tuppence to take home to my wife, poor wife…

…I’ve got no pence
To last me all my life.

I’ve got no pence to spend
And no pence to lend
And no pence to take home to my wife, poor wife…

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To Be, Not to Be, or Barely to Be?

'unbeing dead isn't being alive,' by Nicole Pierce on Flickr

[Image: “unbeing dead isn’t being alive,” by Nicole Pierce on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) The title of this image alludes, apparently, to a quotation by E.E. Cummings — it’s quoted everywhere on the Web — but no one ever says exactly what work it comes from. Maybe he muttered it in his sleep?]

From whiskey river:

Form is certainty. All nature knows this, and we have no greater adviser. Clouds have forms, porous and shape-shifting, bumptious, fleecy. They are what clouds need to be, to be clouds. See a flock of them come, on the sled of the wind, all kneeling above the blue sea. And in the blue water, see the dolphin built to leap, the sea mouse skittering, see the ropy kelp with its air-filled bladders tugging it upward; see the albatross floating day after day on its three-jointed wings. Each form sets a tone, enables a destiny, strikes a note in the universe unlike any other. How can we ever stop looking? How can we ever turn away?

(Mary Oliver)

and:

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.

(Lewis Thomas)

and:

Late Hours

On summer nights the world
moves within earshot
on the interstate with its swish
and growl, and occasional siren
that sends chills through us.
Sometimes, on clear, still nights,
voices float into our bedroom,
lunar and fragmented,
as if the sky had let them go
long before our birth.

In winter we close the windows
and read Chekhov,
nearly weeping for his world.

What luxury, to be so happy
that we can grieve
over imaginary lives.

(Lisel Mueller)

[Read more…]

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