Remembering Leonard Cohen ~ Remembering Suzanne

teaorangesTea and oranges

Certain things in life seem to require “developing a taste.” I never developed a taste for Argyle sweaters, good Scotch, foie gras, or post-modernist art, and I nearly missed out on Leonard Cohen.

I first heard Cohen live at Rockefeller’s in Houston, and thought of him at the time as the Bob Dylan of the beret-and-brandy set. His talents as poet and lyricist are obvious. His melodies are haunting and recognizable, and much of his work has enduring appeal.

But that voice! There are times when you have to take your Dylan straight (“Subterranean Homesick Blues” comes to mind) and the same is true for Cohen. His performance of “Suzanne” is worth hearing, but the exquisite renditions produced by Judy Collins and Francoise Hardy brought me to the music and gave me a song for life. Continue reading

Looking East

Christmas comes differently to the country.

Twisted and threaded around and through twin pieces of rusted rebar that serve as mailbox supports, the plastic pine garland is older than several of the children who tumble from the school bus. Still, its shabbiness is apparent only to the mail carrier, or to the slippered woman trudging down the lane from her house, hoping against hope to find greetings in her box.  From the road, the garland appears perfect, full and fresh.  From a distance, even plastic communicates the determination and joy pulsing in the woman’s heart.  In this house, she thinks, we will celebrate. We will mark the season. We will share our joy with you, the passer-by.

Farther down the road,  a wreath made of vines adorns a gate propped against a fence. Its ribbon flutters in the wind, attracting attention, drawing the eye over the gate and into a pasture.  There’s a brush pile, and some uncleared mesquite. A few trees, pushed over and left to die, wait to be added to the pile.  No cattle roam, no stock tank or pond offers refreshment – not even a piece of rusted, broken-down machinery resists the despondent wind sighing across the field. Continue reading

Sharing a Taste of American Pie

Forecasters in the north still are posting occasional frost warnings and it’s not yet time for Alaska to be awash in wildflowers, but the thawing’s nearly complete. Winter’s gone. Folks are out and about and, in the South, we’ve arrived at the very heart of festival season.

In Texas, Bluegrass and Bluebonnets already has taken place. In Louisiana, the Acadian Festival in St. Martinsville, the Bayou Teche Bear Festival and the Balfa Cajun/Creole Heritage Week are pleasant memories. Still to come are assorted strawberry festivals, New Orleans’ Creole Tomato Festival, the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in Lafayette, Church Point’s Buggy Fest and one of the best combinations of food and music in the world, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Events like last weekend’s Mullet Toss at the Flora-Bama Lounge, a well-known establishment on the Alabama-Florida state line, play to a slightly different crowd. While there’s just as much music and food, there’s often a good bit more liquor and a good bit less clothing.  Crowds are friendly at the Flora-Bama, but they’re not necessarily family-friendly, if you get my drift.

On the other hand, the Flora-Bama Mullet Toss shares some qualities common to other festivals. All tend to be historically-rooted and marked by a high level of community involvement. They support community causes, raise money for local organizations and provide inexpensive fun. Like State Fairs and the Fourth of July, they’re as American as apple pie. Continue reading

A Semi-Divine Comedy

I lost track of singer Ray Stevens years ago, despite my affection for his fanciful story about Ahab the Arab and his clunky little camel named Clyde.  That meant I missed his tale of the Mississippi Squirrel Revival,  another funny song and a cautionary reminder to children of all ages: don’t take your critters to church!

When I recently was introduced to The Squirrel Revival, I laughed myself silly and then remembered another story about members of a congregation, a clutch of Pentecostals from the Texas Panhandle who tried to outrun the Devil on their way to Florida. Long before they reached the Sunshine State, they ended up wrapped around a tree in Vinton, Louisiana, while local cops stood around trying to figure out why they were naked.

A few years have passed, but the story’s just as funny today as it was back in 1993. Even some Baptists and Methodists in the area – folks who tend to take their religion pretty seriously – have been known to keep their clipping of the story close at hand. I saw the article tacked onto a refrigerator in Idalou, torn rather than clipped from the paper and starting to yellow with age. But there it was, bearing witness to the best part of the story – that it’s all true, every living word of it. Well, except maybe for those conversations the preachers had with the Devil. But no one’s even sure about that. Continue reading

More than Paper and Pen

I nearly missed it. Hardly larger than a child’s playhouse, tucked into a bend of Oklahoma highway, its red stone walls flickered in the rising light and complemented the hand-lettered sign. For rent? I thought as I drove past. Furnished?

Pulling onto the side of the road, I turned around and headed back to park in the dirt driveway that edged the property. A house to the east seemed vacant. An air conditioner humming in one of three slightly larger brick cabins to the west only added to the sense of desertion, if not desolation. Camera in hand, I walked around the car to get a better look at the cottage, and stopped.

Above the battered door, a carved stone lintel betokened human presence: friendship and welcome, affection, familial bonds.  Beautiful and unexpected, it brought tears to my eyes and unexpected longing to my heart. I wanted that cabin. Continue reading

The Day That the Rain Came Down

Even now, days later, people seem compelled to ask. “Well….?”

In its full form, the question is, “Well, did you get any rain?” When scattered showers roamed the area recently, excitement was high. Unfortunately, “scattered” was the operative word. A quarter mile to the west, there was no rain, not even a sprinkle. Across the lake, one friend took a dousing for a full half-hour while the marina where I’ve been working remained dry. The bank teller, the nurses’ aide and the sales clerk didn’t get a drop, while the fellow at the next gas pump, the diver from the boatyard and the lady up the street at least had a chance to turn on their windshield wipers.

In short, we enjoyed a reminder of rain rather than real rain, though I happened to be at home when the reminder fell and enjoyed it thoroughly. It rained just long enough for me to drag out my hose and wash down the balcony without creating a mess for the people below, and it rained hard enough to leave some pretty substantial puddles lying about. A half-hour later residual heat and the sun nearly had absorbed them although, to my amusement, while the puddles remained the happiest people in the neighborhood weren’t people at all.

The mallards hustled out first, staring up into the sky, catching raindrops with their beaks and flapping their wings as though applauding the clouds. Glass minnows rippled like raindrops across the surface of the water and then, in a flash of gray and black, the biggest surprise of the day came running across the lawn.

A raccoon who’d apparently been snoozing, or hiding, or doing whatever it is that raccoons like to do during the day was making a mad dash toward the puddles. It skidded along the bricks of the walkway, threw itself into the water collected there and rolled over three or four times. Then, taking to its feet and shaking off its fur, it began to drink. And drink. And drink some more. It stood there slurping up water for a full five minutes until, with another shake and a quick look around the neighborhood it made a mad, galloomphing dash back across the lawn, no doubt headed toward the security of its own raccoon-sized condo. Continue reading

Willie & Wittgenstein Play Luckenbach

Whether it’s good beer, great music or a sense of history you’re wanting, Luckenbach, Texas is a fine place to find it.  Established as a trading post c. 1849, it rose, sort-of-flourished and then declined, nearly passing away before its retired postmaster, a descendent of the town founders named Benno Engel, put it up for sale in 1970.

When I waltzed into Texas in 1973, Luckenbach – a post office, a general store, a dancehall  and a collection of really fine shade trees – already had sold to a remarkable collection of people.  Certain Houstonians turned up their noses at buyer Hondo Crouch and his pals, calling them a collection of “eccentrics, oddballs and kooks”. The description was fair, but out in the country their eccentricity was a selling point, and Hondo’s town took a turn for the better.

Supplementing dominos and beer with a Mud Dauber Festival provided a certain je ne sais quoi, but when Jerry Jeff Walker waltzed into Luckenbach in 1974 to record Viva Terlingua, the Luckenbach nation was born. By the time Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman wrote their song about Luckenbach in 1977 Hondo Crouch had passed away, but Luckenbach was established, and Waylon and Willie and the Boys brought tears to the eyes of expat Luckenbachians around the world. Continue reading