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The Towers Fell, And Then We Were Silent:
A Remembrance, In Coverfolk and Prose

September 10th, 2011 — 11:50 am

I was a media specialist the morning the towers began to fall: sole captain of a prep school video collection, and proprietor of the largest viewing space on campus. And so it was that the students came to me, one by one and together, by class and by cluster, as the word spread from teacher to teacher; so it was, indeed, that I ended up presiding over a grand experiment in media literacy, as the hour passed, and the cycle of not-news – that long hour of uncertain newscaster conjectures that accompanied the static, repetitive footage on every channel – took over the broadcast universe on that fated day.

As I noted last year, though we would not know until much later, we lost one of our own that morning: Chris Carstanjen, a sweet, geeky compatriot from the IT department, an almost-friend whose first drinking date we had scheduled for the following weekend, before he boarded that flight for California and never made it past downtown NYC. But what I remember most was the stunned silence of a hundred students or more, who in that moment, that sacred hour, were being born as the Terror Generation, though they would not know the deep societal scars which they would carry for a long, long time, if indeed they are still thoughtful enough to know now.

I remember, too, the Dean of Students and I deciding, finally, to turn off the screen, in the face of those somber and endless images and faces; to make a short and surely unmemorable speech about how the absence of news was not news, and commandeer the offices of librarians as impromptu counseling spaces for those who were scared, especially those who had parents and relatives in NYC and in the towers themselves, especially those who came from Muslim cultures and Muslim families, and seemed to understand, however vaguely, that they had suddenly become targets for other students’ confusion.

I remember feeling pride, for a moment, that I had managed to remember my calling in the face of disaster. And then I remember a long flash of shame, that I had somehow managed to make the day about me, thus cheapening the true scope of the disaster.

After that, I don’t remember anything at all. In my memory, it is as if turning off the television turned off the universe, too.

And ever since then, the world has been different. And I will always harbor a secret guilt, just like yours, that the world we rebuilt in the months and years that followed was not the same, even though we know, of course, that it could not have been.

Flash forward a decade, and here we are: one among a million paying tribute to the day the towers slowly fell. The world is faster, now, and more divided – two trends which spin into each other like two sides of a gyroscope, pulling at our psyches. I commute 40 minutes every morning to work with students for whom disaster is always personal and everpresent: homelessness, street violence, unemployment, the looming promise of dead-end futures. Some days it seems the only thing they own is their image, and who can fault them, then, for being so brash and sassy, peacocks with razor talons, angry at the world and taking it out on themselves without even realizing it.

I don’t know where to look for the the scars in this new generation, and I’m not sure I’d see them if I did. But their hardened hearts sadden me, sometimes.

There will be a moment of silence, come Monday’s morning announcements. And my students will speak into the air, loud against the voice of authority, unlistening and disconnected to their culture and each other, even as I am silent, and thinking of Chris, and of the moment I turned on the TV on the movie theater screen, and the smoking hole of culture flashed itself into my brain.

I can hear it, even now.

It’s been seven years, now, since I left the prep school; seven years since we lived side by side with the kids in the dormitories, and shared the pain and joys, the proms and punishments of night and day with the smart and well-bred, the resourced and the right-raised. But I often think of that day when I’m in my inner city classroom, working with the children of the downtrodden, the recent immigrants who don’t speak english, the hopeless – all categories of children whose pain is everpresent and real, and who would never have sat in silence, or even identified with the children of the towers.

Teachable moments are the lifeblood of the vocation, and I’m proud, I suppose, that we turned the TV off that day. But there is nothing so powerful as silence shared, as stunned communion. Nothing so powerful as a generation who grows up to see airport patdowns as normative rather than violation. Nothing so powerful, indeed, as the nexuses themselves, about which we try to say too much, and never truly find the words to speak of.

And so today we mourn the losses: of Chris, yes, and his airborne compatriots; of the parents and families of those who passed in fire and fall, impact and explosion – but also of the innocence of once-students now dispersed to the winds, some of them already struggling to raise children of their own. On one hand, they are and ever will be the children of privilege. On the other, they will always be the first generation, the youngest to truly understand what the world has become, without another, older sense of what it replaced.

To them, this new world is normal, for it is all they ever had.

Whether that makes them blessed or cursed is a matter for debate. And some days, I wish I knew, for it seems like it should matter very much indeed.

I miss them, those kids. I wonder about them, too. If I knew how to define okay in this instance, I’d ask them if they were, and if they remembered.

But I’m not sure I’d believe them, no matter what they said.

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Shod Coverfolk, Redux:
On shoes and the end of summer

August 24th, 2011 — 05:22 pm

I’m flat out this week, preparing new classroom and new curriculum for another year in one of the toughest urban schools in Massachusetts, so I hope no one minds a relevant repost as we round the corner on the cusp of yet another school year. As with all our reposted features here at CLD, I’ve included a couple of new additions to the original setlist, too – so scroll down for covers of Black Sabbath, Sia, Paul Simon, Little Feat, Elvis Costello, Townes, Dylan, and more…

On the canvas of my mind, I paint the summerself as a towheaded Tom Sawyer, barefoot and fancy free. And though I cannot see into the infinite otherminds that share my world, it’s healthy, I think, to imagine that we all recreate our childhoods as such.

But there was little point in going unshod in my suburban childhood. A walk meant pavement, not sidewalks, and on the street, the threat of broken glass or ancient gravel shards was everpresent. Even our own backyard was sparse and prickly, a minefield of instep acorns; even the woodchips beneath the swingset were too splintery for toes untoughened by a lifetime of bare earth. For me, shoes and sneakers were the way of the world. And until recently, they always were.

Today, thanks to influence and instinct – evoked, in part, from the better memories of my farm-bred spouse – my children’s lives are different. Here in the woods, the girls run free, digging in the dirt with their heels, leaving muddy footprints across the flagstones as they scamper in for supper. As a consequence, their feet are tougher, the soles and pads thickening with age far earlier than mine ever did. Though I winced my way through the selfsame pathways, watching them run over the rough rocks and pebble beaches as we traveled up the Pacific Coast these last few weeks was validating, affirming the value of our choice to raise them without barriers between earth and flesh.

And such barefoot afternoons and weekends may continue for a while yet, though the rain and chill which arrived this week are a harbinger of colder months to come. But tonight summer ends, and the world of socks and laces rears its ugly head.

Which is to say: the elderchild starts school tomorrow morning, and my own classes will begin on Monday. The wee one will enter the world of public education this year, too, with Kindergarten a given in a world of second grade standardized tests. And school means shoes – for bare toes are outlawed in most schools these days, and for good reason: though flip flops are en vogue, the new world of liability and oversensitivity to hygiene make such summerwear moot in the classroom.

Time to put summer sandals back into storage for another year, then, and climb back into our sneakers and hard shoes, still scuffed from Spring, and dusty with the sifted sunbeams of a summer’s rest. We’ll buy new ones when the paychecks start coming in again, and perhaps by then the pride of shod and booted life will return to us. Too soon, the leaves will fall, and the snows begin, turning shoes to boots with high-top laces. In the meantime, here’s a soundtrack for our sorrow.


  • Mike Gennarini: Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (orig. Paul Simon)
    (from Facebook, 2011)

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk features and songsets each Wednesday and Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

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A Beautiful Mess: Housecleaning Coverfolk

August 20th, 2011 — 07:38 pm

I am not, by nature, a neat or well-organized person. Instead, I am cursed by ADHD, & natural tendencies towards entropy and laziness and procrastination, coupled with a pack-rat’s collecting mentality and a keen visual sense of where I left things which makes tidying up an exercise in planned futility.

And so, for the entirety of my adulthood, I have lived a life which, in its extreme moments, exhibits all the characteristics of relative squalor: clothes on every inch of the bedroom and bathroom floor, more dishes by the sink than in the cabinets, the entryway narrowed with cramped piles of detritus.

Even in the best of all possible worlds, with such tendencies matched by spouse and children, our home is constantly on the verge of being completely taken over by stuff. Halfhearted attempts to create and maintain a sense of order only lead to a life of abashed dishonesty and circuitousness. We are cautious about company, and treat irregular babysitting and housesitting visits as a prompt to reshuffle the various piles of clutter and randomalia which cover the dining room and living room coffeetable deeper into the house, where they will eventually fill and even block entry to entire rooms designed for work and play and sleep.

But every once in a while, we have no choice but to devote an entire day to actually cleaning up. Like now, for example, when the impending school year demands establishment of classroom and homework spaces for all of us, and organizing such spaces from scratch requires finding everything first. Also: I can’t find any of my work clothes.

And so we spend the afternoon working on the house. The entropic universe is pushed back a bit. And, in between sporadic bouts of pile-shifting and distracted paper-shuffling, I sit on the porch, away from the rising dust, and compile a wide-ranging smorgasbord of coversongs which – at least titularly – touch upon the cleaning process. Because I am, by nature and propensity, a beautiful mess. And music is ever my saving grace.

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Oceanfolk, Redux: Covers for the end of summer

August 7th, 2011 — 11:57 am

Originally posted, with slight modifications, in August 2009. Because it’s one of my favorite sets…and because bloggers need vacations, too.

We’re in Truro for a short weekend, just like in 2009, in the same rented beachhouse high on the dunes above the Cape Cod sound. Wakeless trawlers and shore fishermen, beach wanderers and bathers are few and far between, mere specks on an otherwise natural landscape that fills the sense with color: green grasses, faded yellow sand, the variable blues of sky and water.

At night the lights of Provincetown still shine brightly just on the edge of the vista, a line of stars marking the difference between pitch-black sea and an invisible sky. Last time we were here a shooting star dropped towards them while I watched, as if longing to join the tourists and summer people in their shared debauchery. I stayed up late reading the usual borrowed beachhouse paperback, the autobiography of an island lobsterwoman, and fell asleep before eleven.

The weeks ahead burn and roil on the horizon like sunset: next week in Omaha, Nebraska with my father to see the Worlds Largest Ball of Stamps and the Kool Aid Museum, and then back to work, with new students to greet, new courses to teach, and new classrooms to maintain from then until eternity. But sitting here on the deck in the shade of the house, the marsh below me, the ocean beyond, this browngrey hawk drawing lazy circles in the blue overhead, I am reminded how vital it is to sit in stillness at the edge of it all, how centering it is to squeeze peace from the last fleeting weeks of summer.

It’s a good life. Here’s a soundtrack for it.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and commentary Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday.

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Gone Folkin’: Cover Lay Down Takes A Short Vacation
…and leaves readers with 7 covers of our official theme song

July 13th, 2011 — 06:10 pm

On Friday, July 15, my family and I will head off on our annual jaunt to Hillsdale, NY, to help build the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival from the ground up, not to return until a full 11 days later, on the evening after the festival itself has ended. In case you’re wondering why we go, just check out the image above: yes, that’s me in the picture, at last year’s festival, and by the Sunday morning Gospel Wake-Up Call, I fully intend to look just like that.

As I noted in last month’s festival preview post, this will be our fifteenth consecutive year at Falcon Ridge, both as attendees and volunteers. And although for the past three years, I managed the inevitable lapse in internet access by pre-posting both prewritten and guest-penned features, this year, I’ve decided that the stress and distraction of managing such a solution isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

Which is to say: this post is just going to sit here, atop the blog, for the next two weeks.

And I’m fine with that. Really.

The original intention behind pre-posting was noble, I think: to provide no gap in coverage for you, the reader, while still being able to proudly proclaim that, even while we were off galavanting around a field with twelve thousand people, “I” was actively blogging, albeit in absentia, and/or through trusted proxies. And truly, soliciting blogfodder from some of my favorite bloggers, and sharing those guest entries with my readers, was quite a thrill.

In reality, though, what happened was I’d spend the entire week before we left preparing those entries, and simultaneously feeling guilty because my wife was doing all the packing while I was huddled on the couch, pecking away. Then, once on site, I’d sneak off to the local library throughout the week to pirate off their wireless from the corner of the parking lot, making sure that everything posted properly, deleting spam, and just generally reveling in the fact that the blog was chugging away in our little corner of the Internet while I galavanted about in a field that doesn’t even get good cell phone reception.

Even when I wasn’t able to get away, there was a tiny, insistent part of my brain, demanding to know how the blog was doing. And in all those cases, those activities took away some of the joy, some of the freedom, some of the reinvigoration and rejuvenation which I depend upon our annual encampment Falcon Ridge to provide.

The moral here appears to be that blogoholics like myself are not truly served well by trying to keep up the pretense during a short absence. And this year, my need for a truly offline, community-based experience is paramount, after six weeks of tornado cleanup, a daily summer grind of teaching summer school, and a three-week intensive cramming session for this Saturday’s state teaching licensure exam in English.

This year, I’m determined to do it different.

And so Cover Lay Down will return in a couple of weeks. Until then, I encourage you to download the below, browse the archives for the good stuff, and check out the work of my fine fellow coverbloggers who populate that sidebar over there. Me, I’ll be building the community and basking in it, reveling in the music, the crowds, the family, and the friendship. We’ll be back on or around July 27th, rejuvenated and ready for more.

But first, the music.* Because you didn’t think I’d leave you in silence, did you?

*I actually named this blog after an old Dave Matthews Band song title, punned into service. But in the years since, I’ve informally adopted cover versions of Bob Dylan’s Lay Down Your Weary Tune, a song left off The Times They Are A-Changin’ and originally released by The Byrds, as our theme music – and the collection I’ve gathered in since then seems especially apt today, given our absence. We’ll leave it in your ears, until our return.

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Hold Me Now:
Songs of Solace, Hope & Sanctuary

June 28th, 2011 — 02:21 pm

They ran the last trucks through Paradise Lake Road last night, their claws clutching desperately at the piles of brush and branches which have covered the curbsides and yards since the month began. The high school seniors who worked so tirelessly to bring hope and helping hands to shellshocked neighborhoods the morning after their graduation did not happen begin to move on, visiting colleges, taking off for the summer. The church with the fallen clocktower posts daily on our facebook page, its requests sounding evermore desperate as it struggles to find enough volunteers to keep the momentum going.

The t-shirts sell, the benefits continue. The elderchild and I spend a rainy Saturday morning under a vendor tent amidst motorcyclists and their families at an underattended event, trying to raise consciousness and much-needed funds. As Meg Hutchinson, whose own hometown was hit hard by a tornado fifteen years ago, reminded us at our house concert that evening, the bright exposure of natural disaster reveals a town for what it is, and we are blessed, indeed, to live in a time and place where both the Red Cross and FEMA have let us take the lead, recognizing that we, more than most, have the talent and organization, the heart and hope to manage our own community in this time of recovery.

But it’s all uphill from here. Just as Katrina survivors still need our support, just as Haiti still struggles to rebuild, even as the streets and sidewalks clear, and the yards emerge clean and brown with new loam, we are still broken, with so much left to do that it overwhelms the senses and numbs the mind.

Foundations stand empty, a testament to the lives once lived above them.

Homes and businesses remain closed, the red and yellow tags on their boarded-up windows a reminder of just how much we have left to do.

Bodies remain hungry, homeless, and sad, desperately in need of any and all help that the world can bring us.

All this, even as the news begins to turn away, and the volunteers and saints who descended on our town like a holy host of angels begin to return to their own lives, leaving us amidst the bones and seeds, the trailers and the stumps. And here we remain, against the backdrop of our second act: a landscape in potential, waiting for us to begin the hardest part of disaster recovery.

And so, as June dwindles down to naught, we offer one last plea for support.

Donate to Cover Lay Down now, and we’ll give 40% of your generous donation to the town tornado relief fund, where it will go directly to the victims and the victimized. In return, you’ll receive our 2010-2011 sampler of exclusive live covers, our blessings, and our grateful appreciation.

Please don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid to give just a dollar or two to the cause. But help us rebuild, that we may once again have the strong, vibrant places that our strong, vibrant community deserves.

Click HERE to donate to Cover Lay Down / Monson’s Tornado Relief Fund and receive your link to our exclusive live 2010 bootleg digital download. No minimum donation required – even a dollar makes a difference…

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Things We’ve Handed Down:
A Tribute to My Father, on Father’s Day

June 19th, 2011 — 08:37 pm

I’ve written about my father here before, most substantially when he was in the hospital for back surgery, and I spent a few days alone in his home, paying tribute to the man whose influence most significantly shaped my musical taste by spinning a set of coverfolk from the record collection I grew up with. And I’ve alluded to his company throughout our time here at Cover Lay Down, especially at concerts and festivals.

But my relationship with my father goes far deeper than the musical tastes and listening habits we share. In the nine years since I became a father myself, and he separated and later divorced from my mother, my father has become the man I go to for deep discussion, for advice, for companionship. We go to dinner as often as we are able; have gone to Spain, and Germany, to Memphis and California, just the two of us. And I cherish those weeks and evenings together, as I cherish all my favorite memories.

Though his new partner is delightful company – smart, funny, wise – I like to think that I am still his favorite travel companion, just as he is mine. And though he has always had many friends, where I tend to prefer to have many friendly acquaintances, and an exceptionally small crowd of intimates, I am proud and honored to consider him my best friend.

It wasn’t always the case. As in so many families, my father and I fought mightily for a while as we struggled to come to terms with each other throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. I take full responsibility for this: I was trying to define myself as “other” in order to become myself, and spent many years forcefully rejecting what turned out to be guidance, in the name of separation.

It took becoming a father myself to truly begin to understand the deep connections we share – the similarities of personality and outlook, of taste and tone – and to be able to build upon it. And I have a kind of evidence of that, too. Because before I was a music blogger, I kept a personal blog. And back in 2003, on my very first Father’s Day as a new father, I wrote an entry which turns out to be a harbinger of that early awakening to my life as an adult son and parent. Here it is in its entirety, along with a few songs which touch on the unique nature of fatherhood: the young man coming to terms with his past, using his own parentage to process his place in the generations.

A father’s legacy is a wondrous thing; I think I notice it more now that I am a father, too. But I don’t own Father’s Day. I still think of it as something between my father and me. So while the baby naps with her mother, I put on some of the Father’s Day CDs my father sent me this week, and spent some time thinking about the things my father and I have between us.

When I listen to music sometimes everything comes together just right and I am in the music and it is in me. Also, I can recognize almost any singer’s voice on the radio before the DJ tells us who is singing.

My father used to play this game called “do YOU have the tickets?” Usually, he was just stalling for time while he checked to make sure he had them, but once when we were going to a baseball game he didn’t have them, and we had to go back. I remember they were on his dresser, right where he left them. I do that all the time.

You can learn a lot from a guy with a six foot long closet. I like clothes, and I know how to make them look good. I know color, for example, and I know not to iron directly on silk. It’s less an issue of knowing men’s fashion, and more like knowing what looks good on you, in the context of a deep appreciation for the social settings in which an outfit is appropriate, and what message it sends. I guess most guys learn how to dress from their fathers, but what I’m saying is, when I get dressed, I feel like I’m doing it right.

My father is the perfect host. I think there’s a connection there between the way he wears his clothes and the way he wears a party, but if there is, it’s indescribable. Still, any social comfort I have comes from him.

Sometimes when one of my father’s old friends meets me for the first time, or for the first time in a very long time, they say how much I look like him when he was my age, and we sort of grin, and don’t know what else to say, because what do you say when people say that? But it feels really good anyway.

When my daughter was born, I started a list of things I wanted to do with her. Here’s the list so far:

· Take her deep sea fishing. Wake her up before it’s light with no previous warning; leave note for the spouse. Make pb&j sandwiches to eat in the car.
· Go to a Baseball game. Get there early to see batting practice. Eat too much.
· Spend the night on our backs in a field watching a meteor shower.
· Go to the airport to watch planes take off.
· Set up a camera so we can see ourselves live on TV. Do a news show; tape it and send it to grandparents.
· Teach her to sing lead. Harmonize.
· Take her to her first real concert.
· Take her to Falcon Ridge and Winterhawk.
· On her birthday, have her plan a full day. Take her anywhere she wants.
· Go to the Museum of Science in Boston. See the chicks hatch. See a live animal demonstration and a lightning show. Play with bubbles, water, blocks and other stuff. Don’t forget to bring earplugs for everyone.
· Imax movie.
· Planetarium.
· Aquarium, especially penguins and hands-on starfish.
· Beach at low tide; tide pools.
· Tour of McDonalds
· Tour of a farm.
· Go to Grandma Martha’s gravesite. Tell her about Martha.
· Show her how to track her own genealogy. Make a family tree.
· Show her that if you cut a worm in half, it turns into two worms.
· Plant a garden. Grow tomatoes, beans, and carrots. Make a salad.
· Take her to New York City. Show her ground zero. Show her how alive NYC is.
· Take the train somewhere. Get a sleeper car. Live, moving, just to show her it can be done.
· Teach her that not all who wander are lost.
· Drive South in late May; watch it go from winter to spring as we go south. On the drive back, watch it turn back into Winter.
· Make banana bread.
· Make dinner for Mommy.
· Be generous.
· Teach generosity.

It’s a great list, but I can’t take credit for most of it. With a few exceptions, it’s just a list of things my father used to do with me when I was little. Sometimes when I look at this list it’s a little intimidating to imagine myself forging anything better in my own style. Most of the time I’m just really, really grateful.

I hope my own father will keep us company on some of these outings. Yet even if he can’t make it sometimes, somehow, no matter what we do together, I know that my own father will be with us. As he is somehow always with me, watching out for me, watching over me. Thanks, Dad. I love you, too.

As an afterthought, before the music begins: I find, looking at the last section above, that we’ve covered about half of my original “to do” list, maybe more, since that long-ago draft hit the public airwaves practically unnoticed. And there are some items which we have accomplished in spirit, though not in the same way I originally intended. I have yet to take my children to Ground Zero, for example, but I think yesterday’s walk through the ravaged streets of Monson, as part of our own day of service to help our own tornado town rebuild, serves as an apt replacement to introducing my children to the concept of culture and society as comprised of people, not things.

But I digress: today is about the list, and the legacy it represents. And more generally, resurrecting the list for Father’s Day reminds me of what we all have accomplished, though it also reminds me that there is more to do, yet. And that is a wonderful thing, to be grounded in time that way: to have that time ahead of us, and behind us, and in front of us, all at once.

Whether my own father realizes it or not, the parental “to do” list is the best Father’s Day gift a father can give to a son. So if you’re a father, I encourage you to spend some time today and this week making your own list – to check in on your successes, and clarify the roadmap for the months and years ahead. And if you are a son, or daughter, I encourage you to make one, too.

Honor thy father, and love him, too. Turns out, it’s one of the most beautiful things in the universe.

As always, we eschew advertising here at Cover Lay Down, preferring to ask you to support the artists we tout instead of cluttering our pages with sponsors competing for your hard-earned dollars. But the bandwidth we provide comes at a cost, and we depend on your donations to help support the cause.

But there are times when others need our help, too, and this is one of those times. As such, for the month of June, Cover Lay Down will continue to give 40% of all donations to the town of Monson, to support rebuilding and clean-up efforts after the tornado came through and wiped out our downtown area, leaving over 100 people homeless. Please click here to help if you can. Thanks.

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Single Song Sunday: In My Life

June 4th, 2011 — 07:24 pm

There are places I remember…

A moment in time, on a stone bench with Pia, our backs to the rubble that was once her home. Showed her an AP photo of a man holding a page from her account book, which had flown 80 miles to make the news. Admired the clean hole that was her home’s foundation, and the clothes – her daughter’s, her son’s, her husband’s, her own – she has been collecting from the neighborhood. Left her looking in the flat mound next to it for the other shoe to match her daughter’s favorite pair, and her family’s rings – later, I heard, they found the sapphire ring on a branch in a tree, three houses away.

An old woman standing by the assisted living facility just on the standing side of the street, looking out into the headless forest, and her neighbor’s totalled homes, her eyes questioning at the disaster just beyond. 82 years in town, she said, and she’s never seen anything like it. Three days since the storm, and she’s finally come outside, but just to the end of the garden; the rest, she said, is too much, too soon.

Back and forth all morning in the town offices, a hundred years of records and files strewn across floors thick with dust and ceiling tile, bright sun shining in from the torn roof above. We got everything out of a score of offices, packed it up for the long move across town, and though we all wore masks, we knew who we were, and nodded as we went past.

A dozen power company trucks, winching wire through shattered streets. A family, standing on the third floor of their home, looking outward through a wall that used to be there. Truck beds of trees, moving past at a crawl among the gawkers on Main Street; military vehicles full of National Guardsmen, their eyes wary and tired. Backhoes, pushing lumber and glass, branches and belongings, into piles as tall as the houses that once stood here.

So much pain. So many shellshocked. So many people, their t-shirts dark with sweat, twenty to a yard, climbing through the trees, pulling, sawing, hauling. So many of the people I love, descending into the neighborhoods with water and sandwiches, information and friendship, and most of all, the silence that is the community together in shared loss.

Today I saw the wreckage firsthand, whole neighborhoods flattened into nothingness. This morning I walked and worked my way through the war zone that is my town. I cannot tell you where I was – the place looks so unrecognizable, I truly did not realize which streets they were, though a little voice in the back of my brain tells me that these are streets I have driven hundreds of times before.

Monday, the schools will open – for a while, with teachers and counselors in every classroom, to help the kids see the familiar spaces as they were before, and help them in their long path to normalcy again. Tuesday, classes will begin again, if the roads are clear enough for buses; Wednesday night, graduation will take place, a week to the day, a community coming together to celebrate those kids who walked through town today in their senior class shirts in groups of fours and fives, and humbly bent to help wherever they could.

I’m not sure I should, yet. But I’m thinking of taking the elderchild down tomorrow, to see. Because the people I saw today need children, and laughter, and the hope of future generations before them. Now, more than ever before, it is clear: this is what community is all about.

And so I turn to a song that once made me cry, when we said goodbye to another community. A song that another senior class, in another time, chose as their senior song, and we sang along, me and my wife, the elderchild and the infant wee one, pink-slipped into oblivion with no prospect of a job, about to be kicked out of our campus housing onto the knife edge of homelessness, ready to join the graduates on our next grand adventure.

It brought us here, once, this song. And it will bring us home again, too.

While our server and bandwidth costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

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Everything Is Broken: A Tornado Hits Boyhowdytown

June 3rd, 2011 — 12:31 pm

Up until this week, you probably hadn’t heard of Monson, Massachusetts, our little haven in the woods, a tiny rural town (population 8,000) in the no-man’s land between Springfield and Worcester, Hartford and Northampton. But Wednesday evening a tornado split our town in two, flattening homes, cars, businesses, and entire acres of trees, splashing our once-beautiful haven across the front page of every major newspaper from here to the UK and beyond. No one got hurt, but there’s a swath of destruction like a war zone from way above downtown through the dead center of everything I love. And now, two days later, most of us are still digging out of the wreckage.

We were among the lucky ones. I was home, upstream from the tornado’s path, and saw none of it firsthand. My wife and kids were in the basement of our friends’ home, with their dogs and children; we subsequently spent the next five hours trying to get to each other with only cell phone signals to guide us, a journey which involved one of us driving 200 miles to get from one town to the next, and a number of us dragging dogs and children through the wreckage of downed power lines and trees, back and forth as the skies darkened into night and the sirens wailed in the near distance.

But by morning, once we cleared the driveway with the chainsaw and could get out to walk amidst the rubble, the damage was evident: my beloved town has been terraformed.

It’s heartbreaking, and hard to find more deliberate words. The sight of the sky where there used to be trees brings tears to everyone’s eyes; the sight of dozens of houses overturned, or reduced to lumber and roofpaper, brings us to our knees. The town offices and the supermarket have had their roofs peeled away, the churches have had their steeples smashed on the street. The air is filled with the constant sound of sirens and chainsaws and generators and not much else. Graduation has been cancelled, as has so much normalcy.

Still, we’ve been counting our blessings this week in Monson. Facebook has become a lifeline, helping keep us connected and on task as we coordinate shelters and clean-up, FEMA and Red Cross and National Guard assistance where it is most needed. News crews from national and local outlets still stand on the streetcorners, helping to raise awareness. Outsiders drive through with trucks full of generators and water.

More importantly, the community has proved its worth a thousand times over. Kids who were supposed to walk the stage tonight in pomp and circumstance get heat stroke pulling personal belongings from the wreckage. The mega-volunteers we know well organize distribution centers for food and water, bedding and bins for those who have lost everything but their bodies and their hope. People hug in the streets, and thank God that everyone is okay, after all, if a bit shell-shocked.

It will be ages before life is even close to normal here. A weekend before we can drive to the other side of the wreckage. Days before we return to work. Weeks before the shredded phone and power lines are reconstructed, and electricity is returned to all. Months before the supermarket opens, and we can order pizza to our homes again. A summer before the town offices are open for business again, in the abandoned old school building up on the nearby hill. Decades, I suppose, before the tall trees regenerate, and the landscape looks the same.

But we are here, together, with love and help all around. And that is all that matters, really.

So here’s an upbeat set – nothing special, just a quick soundtrack to accompany the news. Me, I’m off to downtown, to get my hands dirty helping to start the long process of rebuilding our community. If all goes well, we’ll be back this weekend with more.

While our server and bandwidth costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

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Great Moments in Coverage:
Paul Simon picks random fan out of the crowd to cover Duncan

May 15th, 2011 — 05:17 pm

Yes, that’s Rayna Ford, Paul Simon fan, crying, screaming epiphanotic joy on a Toronto stage in front of thousands, because her heart has taken over her body and brain, and she cannot do anything less. And all because Simon heard her shouted request, and a comment about how she learned to play guitar on the song, handed her his guitar, and invited her up to take his place.

And, ah, God, I’m practically speechless, on the very throatlump of tears myself at the sheer beauty of the moment: the tears streaming down her face; the wide gleeful grin on his; her utter shock every time he urges her into the next verse; the gentle way he comes up behind her and shows her how to end the song; the audience, singing too, part of the magic.

If you had any lingering doubts that music and love are the most powerful forces in the universe, just watch this video, and be reborn.

It’s not polished, or perfect, or even flawless. But as the NPR story notes, it’s a moment so beautiful, so human, it could almost be a story in a Paul Simon song.

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