My newest holiday tradition: watching The Johnny Cash Christmas Show, circa 1977.
I am an athlete. I’m fairly tall, but you wouldn’t want me on your basketball team. I suck at offense and though I’m a fierce defender, I’d probably foul out in the first half. I’ve got a sweet swing, but I’ll hit one in one hundred pitches, which — for those of you keeping score at home, is the worst batting average humanly possible. I can show you how to throw a decent spiral, but throw a bigger dude on top of me, and I’m a complete wuss. And, yeah, I can kick and kind of dribble, and I can block a pass, and I’ve owned several pairs of shinguards, and I can skate and handle a puck just fine, but not well enough to matter much to you or your stinking team. It still burns when I think about getting picked last in the soccer games played at gym and recess, or in the cul de sac roller hockey game. My own best friend once betrayed me, choosing our sworn enemy before me in order to improve his chances. Turns out, my team won, and that friend and I were never as close again. I digress.
I play individual sports. I was recruited to swim in college. My friends will tell you, throw a pair of skis on me, and I’ll dance down the mountain. And I never feel as free as I do when I’m on my bicycle. Which leads me to James Wilson’s most recent post on Secret Forts.
“Writing a piece on my relationship to cycling. Feels like it’s something you’d write. Like I’m channeling you somehow.”
I got this text last night from James.
“Send it to me,” I wrote back.
He sent it.
“May I edit it?”
I didn’t do too much to it: fixed some late night spelling errors, removed several erroneous parenthetical remarks (dude loves him some parentheses). It’s precisely the kind of thing I would write. Obsessive. Meandering. It’s a road trip by bicycle. It’s something I think we can all relate to, and I’m happy to see that James is writing again. Hope you find it as inspiring as I did.
Photos of my current bicycle come courtesy of Sheldon Brown’s Retro Raleighs page.
I only have a cursory familiarity with Mr. Caldwell. I don’t think we ever met, and if we did, it was brief. For a time several years ago, his wife and I were coworkers. While we were, I had the unique privilege to test ride one of his early bicycles. I have yet to find a bike that rides as smoothly or as comfortably as the one I tried that day. One day, I would like to document the building of one of Ezra’s Fast Boy Cycles and perhaps own one of his fine creations. Till then, take a few minutes to watch this video and join me in becoming a fan of Mr. Ezra Caldwell.
Saddened to learn of the death of one of rock’s great songwriters, JJ Cale. In addition to writing tunes for the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Waylon Jennings and Tom Petty, he’s perhaps best known for having penned Eric Clapton’s hits “After Midnight” and “Cocaine.”
I had the unique opportunity to see him perform in New York City several years ago, and in the middle of his performance of several of his hits for others, I was thrilled that he made time in his set to play my favorite of his tunes, “Crazy Mama.”
He performs it here with friend and fellow Tulsa, Oklahoma native Leon Russell.
His obituary in the New York Times.
His official website.
Guy Clark sings “My Favorite Picture of You.”
When I’d come home from college with a new mix tape for the three-hour drive in my Jeep, at some point on the visit, I would pick up my high school girlfriend for a catch-up over lunch or dinner or coffee or drinks. She’d dig her fingers into my dad’s hand-me-down sheepskin seat covers. Over the car speakers, Guy Clark would croon “Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry, babe. Love’s a gift that surely handmade,” and she’d smile and scoff, “I thought you didn’t like country music,” a reference to my poohpoohing The Dixie Chicks* while we were still together.
“This? This is different. This is real.”
Towards the end of my sophomore year of college, one of my mentors handed me a photocopy of a bunch of short stories from the singer-songwriter Steve Earle, saying something to the effect of, “Here. This is what you’re trying to do,” referring to my piss-poor attempts to write stories of the American West. Also, it didn’t hurt that the girl I had a crush on at the time was really into Steve Earle.
By the time I was a junior, in effort to channel Mr. Earle, I might have been found walking around campus with a giant afro and sideburns, wearing bell bottoms and a pearl snap, a shiny, vintage pair of pointy-toed cordovan cowboy boots, and amber colored aviators. I most likely had a guitar case at my side.
Guy and Susanna Clark
107 years ago today, Leroy “Satchel” Paige was born. A baseball legend unlike any other, tales of his fastball, called “The Midnight Rider,” loom as large as the largest in the game’s history. Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, he began his career playing for the Mobile Tigers ”at a dollar a game if attendance was up and a keg of lemonade if it wasn’t.”
Now in its fortieth year, Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnics are the barbecue to end all barbecues. Though each year is legendary in its own right, today, I’d like to focus on the 1974 celebration which looms large in its legend. Nelson was inspired to start a yearly festival by the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion, where he was a part of the lineup. In 1973, also in the same town, Dripping Springs, Texas, he held “Willie Nelson’s First Annual 4th of July Picnic,” inviting famed rock ‘n roll photographer, Jim Marshall along to photograph the whole thing. The lineup included Earl Scruggs, Hank Snow, Sonny James, Tom T. Hall, Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In its aftermath, the people of Dripping Springs called the festival “moral pollution.”
The Roots’ drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has just released Mo’ Meta Blues, his memoir which serves several functions. Part historical retelling of his life, growing up the son of Lee Andrews of the doo-wop group, Lee Andrews & The Hearts, part autobiographical discography — in addition to his encyclopedic recounting of the music in his life, the guy is a massive Prince fan — and part self-effacing recounting of several, what he calls, “Forrest Gump moments” in his life. Through various opportunities, first as the drummer for “the last great hip hop band” and now as the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night program, Quest has found himself at several of history’s focal points. As he points out on Fresh Air, when President Obama slow-jammed the news, a segment in which Fallon hypes the news being read — typically by NBC’s Brian Williams — that though the event was a big deal, he’s learned to curb his enthusiasm. “I don’t mourn the bad. I don’t celebrate the good. Just walk forward.”
Legendary record producer Rick Rubin made Kanye West’s Yeezus, which took over at number one on the Billboard charts this month for another Rubin production, 13, Black Sabbath’s first album in thirty-five years. Andrew Romano, senior writer for Newsweek and recent contributor to the Things My Father Taught Me, explained in his interview with Rubin, “Few, if any, other producers have ever managed such a feat.”
Like anyone my age, you too are a Rick Rubin fan. As the title to Romano’s piece suggests, “You listen to this man every day.” As I read his piece, I recalled when I first heard of Rubin.
Most of the stories I know of my grandfather and my great-grandfather are largely exaggerated. They’re tales handed down from my father and his siblings. I was told my great-grandfather was the only man in Alton, Illinois who drove a convertible with reclining front seats, and his friend Robert Wadlow, the tallest man to have ever lived, would occasionally borrow my grandfather’s car to cruise for chicks.
I am a snoop, always finding Christmas presents well in advance of the holiday. One year, while sneaking around in my dad’s closet, I uncovered a prayer book that had once belonged to my grandfather. I know this, because, in the front of the book, in the most precise penmanship, on the line beneath “Property of” was written “Harlan Charles Wastler.”
When I was caught by my father, and let it be known I was always caught while snooping (at least that’s what I’ll tell the authorities), he told me — I swear to this day — that my grandfather had such nice penmanship that he was often asked to handwrite the entire Bible. Until as recently as a couple years ago, I still believed this to be fact. I figured he would just do it for fun after work while listening to the Cardinals game on the radio, and I imagined a large shelf above his head with beautiful leather-bound journals filled with blank pages, awaiting his quill.
My grandfather died when my dad was seventeen. It left my father, who was all set to leave for college, to stay behind and help to take care of his younger brothers, twins Mark and Matt. My mother too lost her mother at a very young age and was relied upon to care for younger siblings. I think it’s part of what’s shaped my appreciation for what my parents did and what all parents do.
My brother Ben and I are lucky to have the parents we do. They had something of a trial period prior to raising us, and we got their best effort. In New York, while studying acting, I had an instructor who encouraged us to go back and research our family histories. “You’ll have a better idea of where you’re going if you know where you come from.” It was at this time I began recording my family’s history, and since then, I’ve had a fascination with origin stories of all kinds.
And so it is, as today is Father’s Day, and my dad is celebrating his last before becoming a grandfather, I am able to learn a bit more about the man who shaped the one I’ve idolized for my thirty-two years in his care. Thank you, dad, for taking time to share some things your father taught you.