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