By Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller):

Because it captures the vagaries and complexities of the heart:



Every now and then one reads a book that eloquently elaborates on something one only intuited, or had some half-formed notion about. Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America was one such book for me, Neil Postman’s Technopoly another. There have been others, through the years, but they tend to be rare things, received in gratitude.

I have read, and written, a lot over the years about the crisis of the American working class, which has steadily descended into poverty and hopelessness. And I have written about capitalism and its evils. And the labor movement and the illusion of ‘free’ market ideology and the concentration of wealth in America.

But nowhere have I seen these things addressed so clearly and cogently as in this book, every page of which has an ‘aha’ moment:


The Wolf

“When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’ ”  –  Sam Phillips

I bought Johnny Cash’s Unchained album when it came out in 1996, but had not listened to it for a long time until last week. It is a fine album, not least for this, one of the great love songs of musical history, which was penned by Mr Cash:

It also contains this cover of a Jude Johnstone song, a great spiritual, which Mr Cash makes his own:

Two Poems


Brother Cock

there is a rooster
living in the woods
near the stream
where i stop on my way home

black he is
with red wattles and comb

i first knew of him
hearing him crow
when i stopped once in the morning

startled i was
then wary
for i feared a rooster
when i was small
and my first memory
is the dream i had
of crazy bird eyes and talons

and my father
killing him with a hoe

so i was nervous
the second time i saw him
when he sidled toward me
in little jerks
eyes blazing

i backed away

later i realized
that he is wary too
and we became friendly

sort of

and i called him
brother cock

now i think of him
as a hermit eccentric
though because we don’t speak the same language
i cannot tell what kind

half a mile from the sprawling hen-house machine
from grain and warmth and shelter
and all the fucking he could stand

out here in the woods


a refugee from the factory

is he a monk or a rebel
or is he just shy
or sick of the chicks’ critiquing
or worn down by beaks and pecks
and choking on methane

did he reject the life of privilege
on principle

or does he maybe
just want to sing the dawning down


painting the sky

with his rough song



finally spring
not tentative and hesitant
like the crocus and the snowdrop
not yearning and coaxing
like the red birds in the treetops
not the clenched potentiality
of the tight buds and green sprouts
but triumphant and glorious
suddenly verdant and urgent


bright life raging
in the high up
haze of green
in the underbrush
the sudden rush
of wide brown waters
in the low place
i have come to love
first south wind of the season
high water everywhere
ditches and streams
and fields
all is changing
and ever same
spiraling and spinning
out of and into
within and beyond

the wholly unnamable flame


I found a CD in a cutout bin a while back, early Allman Brothers, mostly stuff I had never heard, with five or six live versions of things I knew tacked onto it. It mostly played in the background, except some of the dazzling guitar solos and duets that I played for Patric, my whiz guitarist son.  But last week I was driving home and I listened carefully to this song and realized what a wonder it is, and I do not mean just for the extended jam wizardry for which the Allmans are renowned. This is a profoundly spiritual work, and the amazing thing is that it was penned – and sung- by very young men. Like the mystery of Gregg Allman’s blues singing, it is something I cannot unravel, these young southern white boys able to write and sing with such depth and pain.

The version I bought is an earlier, rougher one. I could not find that one online, so this will have to do:

In case you could not make them out, here are the lyrics:

Nobody knows about what’s going on,
With the world and the steel,
The flesh and the bone.
River keeps flowing and the grass still grows,
And the spirit keeps going, nobody knows.
Poets they come and the poets they go,
Politicians and preachers they all claim to know.
The words that are written and the melody’s played,
As the years turn their pages, they all start to fade.
The oceans still move with the moon and the sky,
The grass still grows on the hillside.
Got to believe in believing,
Got to believe in a dream,
Freedom is ever deceiving,
Never turning out to be what it seems.
It’s amazing how fast our lives go by,
Like the flash of the lightning or the blink of an eye.
We all fall in love, and we fall into life,
We look for the truth on the edge of a knife.
Heavens turn around the river still flows,
Spirit keeps going, nobody knows.
Words that are written and melody’s played,
As the years turn their pages, it all start to fade.
Oceans still move with the moon and the sky,
The grass still grows on the hillside.
Got to believe in believing,
Got to believe in a dream,
Freedom is ever deceiving,
Never turning out to be what it seems


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