There is a lot of irony in posting this today, with the murder of former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, but there is an art auction sponsored by Wounded Wear coming up on Feb. 9 that a Navy friend of ours did some target shooting for in memoriam to the fallen team members of the Navy SEAL community who have lost their lives fighting terrorists over these last 11 1/2 years.
The target was then further rendered into a work by artist Ellwood T. Risk. You can read more about this special project HERE. You can also bid ONLINE now through Feb. 9th. The proceeds go to the Wounded Wear organization.
Last night was the Richmond premiere of Lincoln. It’s terrific. Walking home afterwards, I checked the calendar to find that it was one year to the day, Nov. 8th, since I had wrapped my scenes as a congressman voting on the 13th amendment to abolish slavery. On that 8th of 2011, after changing out of my wardrobe for the last time, I came home and tried to capture the bizarre essence.
It was a rewarding, soulful, sublime 10-day experience for me, marked with a lot of emotional highs and lows; a lot of standing and sitting; a lot of shouting and listening; a lot of watching, studying, observing, thinking, dreaming, anticipating; a lot of reverence, a lot of awe, and a palatable feeling that what was being recreated from the past and captured here on film for the future, was something of significance…that people weren’t just making a movie.
It was pretty cool.
The fun of being an actor is bringing absolutely everything to the table that you feel should be there based on what you’re given, as filtered through your own focus, and then trusting that the director is going to expand or reign-in what is necessary to keep his big picture – the Big Idea – on track. You focus on the moment, and the director takes all the moments and steers them towards his ‘True North’, or what will make his film a cohesive whole.
True North is the big idea I took away from watching Lincoln. “If I have a compass that points True North,” Lincoln says in the movie to radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, “and I disregard all the obstacles I am sure to encounter that will prevent me from getting there, then what’s the point in even knowing True North at all?”
That’s paraphrased, but Lincoln’s point was that to achieve their big idea, their belief, it would take strategy and process over fervent, radical conviction of racial equality in order to secure the votes to pass the 13th amendment. Once the institution of slavery was gone, the South would be rendered powerless, the war would end and the Union would become the United States again, preserved as a cohesive whole once and for all and (eventually) for all people.
I woke at 4am unable to sleep. It’s natural for an actor to want that isolated moment of their performance reflected back to them, and so I had gone to bed around midnight feeling a bit melancholy that, while I’m in the mix during the voting scene, my passing moment didn’t exactly make the final cut. Alas, these things happen. Or, more appropriately, these things are merely part of the process - the process of preparing and adjusting for True North…in keeping the director’s belief, the Big Picture, on track.
And so now, at 4am, I’m all wound-up on the movie, but instead of thinking about my part, I was thinking about the sum of parts, about the fabric of the scene woven into the movie as a whole, and the Idea behind it - about what it means to be human, to be a part of the cloth, and, as Lincoln points out in the movie, how ‘those things that are considered equal are, by definition, equal to each other’.
At the risk of mixing incongruous American icons, John Wayne has a great quote that comes to my mind often when I’m struggling to go to sleep or wake up:
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
And so, awake and renewed - albeit at 4 a.m. and earlier than I want it to be - I slap on my running shoes and take off in the quiet pre-dawn cold and dark with a sliver of moon and a very bright star just to it’s south west. I was happy to be back on track, outside of my brief individual-self, and thinking of Lincoln and the United States and all that it has endured in those grand, crucial, Big Idea/True North terms and thankful that I was taking from it what I should: That knowing True North in concept alone is meaningless without a process and determination for getting there, and that the Whole has got to be bigger and better and more meaningful than the sum of it’s parts.
I feel fortunate to have been a part of Lincoln…to have been a thread in the fabric…a part of the process. I will carry it with me. I feel like I witnessed a piece of history, while also watching history spring to new life on an eerily poignant set, with a great cast, a first-class production crew of artisans, and helmed by one of my favorite directors since those early memories as a wide-eyed 5-year old catching brief glimpses of JAWS playing on the Azalea Drive-In Theatre screen as our car would pass by on I-64 during those summer nights in ‘75.
I write lyrics and sing for Carbon Leaf, the rock/folk/independent band started in college by Terry, Carter and me. I also handle things like schedules, finances, projects, merchandise and miscellaneous tasks for the day-to-day Band-As-Business world.
It’s a pretty full day.
More into movies, I didn’t grow up with a lot of music, but rather, wore out a few bands early on in my youth: The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Elvis and, hedging into my teen years, The Police and R.E.M., were all main staples growing up.
I had a Mickey Mouse record player and Elvis Golden Records was the first thing spun on it. I also had Shawn Cassidy’s “Da Do Run Run” 45. But that was only because I was a big fan of The Hardy Boys Mysteries TV show.
The Beach Boys albums were given to me by Jeff Tayloe, the older of 3 brothers who were family friends and neighbors. “Girl Don’t Tell Me” is one of my favorites on the melancholy side, and “Catch A Wave” is one of my favorites on the Cali-Happy side. The Monkees records I got at a garage sale (a score for me, but who could do such a thing?). “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is my favorite Monkees song; The Police I was introduced to by a kid at summer camp – “Synchronicity I” and “II” on some headphones in the woods on a lake as a young teen = Perfect Sense; R.E.M.’s Murmur was given to me on a mix tape and listening to it felt like a window into what ‘the older kids’ were listening to, then a year later I seized the opportunity to steal a cassette of the band’s Reckoning album from my sister’s friend’s car when they both came to visit from college. I took the cassette right out of the tape deck, with impunity and no intention of returning it. I still have it. Bite me Cindy.
After listening to all these otherworldly artists at an impressionable age, all music for all time was ruined for me.
...A VERY, VERY, VERY FINE HOUSE
My mother was a homemaker and full-time mom of two. She packed lunches and would wrap a quarter in tin foil every now and then for a Nutty Buddy that the school kept on lockdown in those windowless stainless steel freezer bins that when opened would drone and waft fog and smelled like cold paper-covered ice magic. I never understood why she wrapped the quarter in tin foil, but it was very official. It was a big deal when it happened. A gift I guess.
My father managed Robbie’s True-Value Hardware Store in Janaf Shopping Plaza until I was 11. I still have a T-shirt that’s 35 years old.
Robbie’s was a large home-improvement center – before the Big Box Stores came onto the scene [Hechinger’s…Lowe’s…Home Depot] and closed down most of the independent home center stores quite effectively almost overnight. (Also, now gone from Janaf Plaza are the Donut Shop and High’s Ice Cream with the round colored swivel stools).
Robbie’s was awesome and smelled like fertilizer when you walked in, with a gleaming, angled row of 20 red Toro lawnmowers, like a lineup of hotrod racecars. I have fond memories of running through the long, darkened aisles after-hours, and at Christmastime there was a huge tree section - a sea of pine, with canned snow, canned pine scent, electronic chirping bird ornaments and animatronic elves sawing and painting things and readyin’ for the holidays, moving very slowly - repetitive and creepy - stuck with whatever facial expression they were given. I loved it.
My dad bought an amazing piece of house and property from an elderly couple, the Petersons, on the Elizabeth River, on River Wood Road in Elizabeth Park, which served as my childhood home and chief resonator for all things creative, mysterious and adventurous. The Petersons liked my dad a lot and basically gave him an amazing offer, I think citing that they’d be dead soon anyway. Of course, in the ‘70s I don’t think living on the water was necessarily seen as ‘desirable’ or financially smart, so we got double lucky. The Petersons left to us their extensive old books and tools collection. The house had a big front and back yard, dozens of 80 ft. pine trees with thick old bark, a long pier out to the sunset, marshes with a rope swing, forts, tool sheds, hiding places, pine straw piles, loving neighbors, summer spotlight, no sidewalks, long driveways and big wheel races at 4th of July with fireworks set off from the pier, scorching the railing and littering the marsh with washed-up soggy, scorched casings - the good old ‘70s.
Our next-door neighbors, the Downings, became essentially a third set of grandparents to my sister and me. We would spend the night there often, and Mr. Downing, a retired Navy captain, would draw huge sailing schooners on my chest and anchors on my forearms in red ink. He had a red MG sports car, and a large block of tar in his workshop that he’d carve chunks off with his pocketknife and we’d chew it like gum. In the fall, he would start raking pinestraw on monday, and rake everyday until finished on friday, to begin again on Monday, BBC blaring from a transistor radio. One summer, he installed a large above-ground pool in their backyard for us neighborhood kids. We came home and there it was. Crazy.
I tried to capture a little of the essence of Riverwood Road in “X-Ray”.
IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTERALL??
Our family took a cross-country camping trip when I was 6 years old and we slept in a pop-up Coleman camper and stayed in all the great national parks, seeing the raw, rugged United States - this alien landscape, these wild creatures, this dangerous, mysterious, alluring vastness – all for the first time with my brand new eyes, and it was way more to comprehend than I could have ever imagined, but I took to task regardless, and sponged up any extra for later; it was the biggest defining moment of my formative years.
Essentially, we relived the Pioneer experience in our Family Truckster station wagon for a month. At the trip’s zenith, in Anaheim, I bore witness to the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations being held at Disneyland there in California in the summer of 1976. Everywhere you went that summer it was all about Red, White and Blue, 200 years of Old Glory and Bald Eagles. Disneyland, however, was Mecca, and unlike Wally World, the park was open, in a big and profound way.
If I drew one American Bald Eagle that summer, I drew a thousand. Do you know what the impact is on a coonskin-wearing 6-year-old, who, having just journeyed for two weeks on his way from Virginia to California, having just discovered the Gateway to the West, the Ole Miss, the prairies, the bison, the grizzlies, elk, the Yellowstone sulfur pits, Old Faithful, the mining ghost towns of the old west, the Columbia River, Yosemite Valley - all for the very first time in his life, most of which never knowing it had even existed, to then reach a mysterious place that you had heard about - Disneyland – where you are now standing, mouth agape, on a gleaming-beyond-comprehension street corner taking in the spectacle that was the Disneyland U.S. Bicentennial Celebrations Parade?
Let me tell you…
"SOMETIMES YOU GET, AND SOMETIMES YOU GET GOT."
-Old West Proverb
Sitting here in St Louis, in the White Stallion II, contemplating the sensations of being freshly robbed just a few hours ago. As it were, the bandits struck us here outside the Millennium Hotel, a mere 400 yards from the famous Gateway Arch - the "Gateway To The West" - which sits right alongside the banks of the Mississippi River, where Lewis and Clark (Virginians!) embarked on their 2 1/2 year Corps of Discovery journey to find the Northwest Passage and return with details of their findings to their commissioner, President Thomas Jefferson (Virginian!).
We are now indeed heading west ourselves, for a few private shows and then further on to Colorado (one of my favorites) for some outdoor shows this weekend.
We've now been to St Louis 17 times, according to our setlist records, but I haven't actually ventured to the Arch itself since I was a boy, when our family took our maiden 3 week cross-country camping trip from Virginia to California, which will forever remain fabled, legendary and burned in my impressionable mind. This was at a time where monuments such as the Arch were swarming with tourists. There was not as much competing for people's entertainment dollar in 1976 as today, and so with the end of the oil embargo, and the U.S. Bicentennial in full swing that summer, Americana was where it was at.
So this morning on my run I jog on over to the Arch for a revisit and tool around the trails, run alongside the Mississippi, past the riverboat playing some saloon tunes from some stereo speakers, down to the bridge where there was a large bronzed Lewis and Clark statue. I jogged up and down the steps right under the monument, which rests right there on the river, and winded myself enough to be satisfied that it wasn't altogether mediocre exercise for the day.
The Gateway Arch remains enormous, grand, and inspiring. As overwhelming as it was when I was a boy. Back then, I remember the euphoric buzz being conveyed to me that THIS WAS THE OFFICIAL START OF A TRIP TO A LAND YOU DO NOT YET KNOW. Everything from Viriginia to Missouri kind of looked familiar so far…temperate, deciduous, hilly, farm-city-farm etc. But now, with this grande Arch, this ceremonial ground, came a new exhilaration that something was afoot and I was about to saddle up for it. I'm pretty sure we took the trip to the top of the Arch, but I don't have that memory. I do have vague memories of going into the museum lobby section, which is kind of underground to the Arch. I remember some furs or stuffed animals, perhaps bison or bears, and some fringe…and so it was probably a glimpse of what Lewis and Clark would eventually encounter, displayed in that '70s taxiderm'd animatronic, earth-toned way. I should have gone in to see how much was the same or had changed - jog my memory, to use the pun - but I was sweaty, after all.
Since those days, I've always envisioned the Gateway Arch to be hollow, and that rapping on it would produce a huge tin PONNNNGGGGG that would echo to the other side of this stainless steel rainbow. So now, I go up to it for good measure and knock hard, really wanting to hear the thing pong. Nope...solid as a rock, like knocking on the side of a battleship. Of course, stupid.
"GOOD JUDGEMENT COMES FROM EXPERIENCE, AND A LOTTA THAT COMES FROM BAD JUDGEMENT."
- Old West Proverb
Nostalgia satisfied, I jog back to the hotel and there's a text from Terry informing us our new vehicle, White Stallion II, has been compromised. Relieved that it was the lock bolt and not a smashed window, the damaged is assessed: $300 gas cash, and the future-fix cost at around $3-500. Total Bummer = $6-800. Not a catastrophe, nor enough to hurdle our deductible, so we grow tired of waiting for the fuzz and beat it.
[Yes, we had kept some cash in the van, but fully concealed in a blue zipper pouch that says "There's Nothing In Here", safely stuffed in the center console drawer and out of plain sight.]
Overall, we feel pretty good. Lucky. In our 20 years together the van has been robbed twice (Baltimore). Thankful to still have what matters, which is to say the actual vehicle and the gear.
Then, on our way out of town, I reach down for my trusty saddlebag that contains 3 books/workbooks for which i'm actively taking courses, my journal, my production notes clipboard, and my latest 3/4s full lyrics notebook.
Only it's not there.
Now I'm angry, sad and violated. Now I feel like They Got Me. Now this is a stickup.
So on the banks of the Mississippi, under the Gateway To The West, near the Lewis and Clark statue with the riverboat blaring those warbled piano tunes, somewhere nearby, in the dirt, sits my discarded non-valuables and I can't help feeling like the young Virginia hayseed all over again: Wide-eyed, fresh from the farm and stripped clean of all his belongings.
"ENJOY THE WILD WEST KID!!" an artful dodger grimy whiskey breath voice echoes.
I picture these bandits - it is a posse - at the edge of the river, counting their money, satisfied. One of them is combing through my bag now, and he discovers the most eloquent, moving piece of literature. He cannot believe what he is reading and it moves him to tears. Weeks later I get an anonymous letter, requesting to meet at a dusty location. He wants to return my work. We meet and it is windy, both of us are hard to see in the swirling dust. He drops the satchel on the ground.
"Keep the money" I say.
Another picture has me with a few more stubbles of gray on my chin as we make our way West. I shift my eyes left to right more, and they are not as wide. It's the law of the land that, from time to time, your goods are going to get looted. Cash is cash, and bodywork is bodywork. It's understood.
But man. Steal my dreams from my saddlebag?
Watch your back, Jack.
I am sitting in the Ford customer lounge facing the wall, away from other customers, fighting back some…we’ll call them tears…after being caught by surprise by…emotions, like realizing those feelings you’ve so successfully fought down have no place else to go but to the surface to kind of do their thing.
So today is emotional. My 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is in the service bay, getting what I suspect will be a clean bill of health. Normally a good thing, but instead, this is a ceremony, to put on paper what I already know…that it’s internals are in order.
Perhaps I should frame it a different way, so that everyone is on the same emotional page:
I’m sitting in the vet office, waiting for the veterinarian to come out and say what I already know:
“I’m sorry Mr. Privett, but it’s time to put your little pony to sleep.”
“What?! My little pony? What do you mean? You just said she was in good health?”
“I know. But your life is a mess and this pony is impractical.”
“Well…sure, I know that but…put her to sleep!? Doc, couldn’t I just sell her?”
“Is there a difference?”
I had a dear friend once; she had a horse, a real one. Then she had to sell her. It was a big deal. She was a rider and always had been. But then boom, you become a woman and life changes, and there’s a crossroads where you’re going to continue being a rider, or your horse is going to hang out in the pasture and wait for it’s feed, it’s brush, it’s sweet-nothings.
Regardless of how busy life gets, a horse still needs to run.
But we cling. To the ideal, to the dream, to the would-have-could-have-been.
And so, I love these Life Lessons that recur – the ones you learn from, but yet ignore the next time the similar framework re-emerges. It’s like attending a reunion, wading in that nostalgic alternate universe of possibility:
“Ah, I remember learning that hard lesson…what a great mistake. How about another go-round?”
A little refresher mistake, maybe? Just to make sure it really hits home.
I will go out on a very general limb, and say that the dream of owning a classic car is, at the very least, a lingering, prescient part of a man’s Vision for his Future…a catalyst, an ignition to the Ideal Self. You’re sliding across the hood because you’re direct. And in a hurry.
Somewhere, off in the distance, it is crystal clear. You see a pony. You see you on it. You buy it. You ride it. Dream fulfilled.
Up close, however, it is fuzzy at best. And when you’re doing something else - washing the dishes, working at your desk, trying out a little romance perhaps - it saddles up to your window and asks, “Now what?”
Servant to whim, Lord of reality.
Not to keep stirring myself horse-car cocktails, but I met a horse rancher in Texas once and asked her about getting into horses seriously and she replied, “well, you either need the money or the means.” Which is to say, be rich and just pay for it all and have others deal (the money), or make it your life, become resourceful, make it your livelihood (the means).
Money VS. Means.
Pulling up to Ford in a classic mustang makes you feel kinda special: Employees come out – from the bay, the receptionist desk, the sales floor, some old-guard white-haired fellas (everyone at Ford is a car person, I’ve found) – and you’re thinking, ‘dag, this would make an awesome weepy Ford Super Bowl commercial.’
Anyway, yeah…driving it anywhere makes you feel kinda special. Not because it makes you look ‘cool’, but because most guys in their 50,60,70s – and you see them coming, that far away look in their eye - they walk right up to you as if you’re old friends…then past you…eyes on the car; at the gas station…in the auto parts store parking lot…at the traffic light, they will stop you. These aren’t the ‘wow, nice car!’ folks…
“What she got? A 351 Cleveland?”
"Actually no, it's a 429..."
And so it begins. What follows is 10-20 minutes of unsolicited mustang history, mustang facts, mustang tricks and general knowledge coming out so fast you wish you could just pause them to grab a notebook, or at least start recording with your phone like a beat reporter.
A wellspring of means.
Mustang notwithstanding, you learn a lot about these people. Personal stuff. It’s like a free pass into a stranger’s soul. And you don't have to say a word.
When a hobby outsizes your money or your means, then it’s not a hobby. A hobby can be fairly safely ignored from time to time…it is part of the balance, not a counterweight that you stress to leverage.
So, off in the distance, where it’s crystal clear, I want to ride for days. But up close, it’s fuzzy, and simply not where I am in my life.
I want my days to have 24 hours with a beginning and an end, with work - and life - to show for it. Any plans for a future day need to be put onto paper and committed with ink, not sitting in a garage, not put out to pasture, waiting for it’s feed, waiting for it’s brush, waiting for it’s sweet-nothings, waiting for the day until it’s convenient.
A horse needs to run.
ONE ACT PLAY
Why am I so bad at not being alone?
We're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.
Man, I don't get it.
[I went to my Uncle's on the Eastern Shore this year for Thanksgiving, and was reminded of this blog entry I wrote on Thanksgiving in 2006. Leftovers...Happy Thanksgiving!] -Barry
TONGUE OF THE OCEAN
I spent Thanksgiving on the Eastern Shore and sat across from a stranger, a waterman who harvested oysters and was a charter boat fishing captain. He was in his late 50s or so, lean and wiry like most waterman would look and he took polite portions at dinner. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and had a white mustache that was stained a little yellow from cigarettes. His skin was surprisingly un-ruined by the sun.
I asked him what was the worst thing that happened to him in his 40 years on the water.
"Well, I lost my first mate at sea."
This got the table's attention, so he went on to tell the story of how, when he would be on deck piloting the boat, he would use morse code-type signals to the mate at the stern, who was cutting up frozen bait, as a means of communicating various things without having to leave the wheel, as that was an easier way of communicating than shouting down or having to be face to face.
After an hour from leaving the "Tongue Of The Ocean" (a term referring to the tongue-like area of the Bahamas that bottoms out into a huge trough 6,000 feet deep), the Captain banged his foot to signal to the mate. After a few minutes, he banged some more, but didn't get a response. He stopped the boat and headed to the stern, but the first mate was gone. Checked the head and hull, but no mate. No one else was onboard, as they hadn't gotten to their rendesvous point yet where they were to pick up their party.
On realizing the mate had gone overboard, he estimated that it had been an hour on the open water since they had last spoken directly, so he sent out a distress signal and had other boats come in and back-track. For four hours the boats had retraced their path best they could.
After multiple tedious passes back and forth, he was finally spotted, floating naked.
He was alive and they brought him aboard and asked what had happened. The mate explained that he went to dip the bucket into the ocean to grab water to thaw the fish, but at 30 knots, the bucket became a water filled sail and yanked him over. He used the bucket to float, but when the boats returned several hours later, on their first pass, he banged on it so hard while trying to signal the search boats that were so close he was virtually under their nose, that he punched a hole clean through through the bucket's bottom, sinking his flotation device. In a last attempt at signaling the boats, he took off his clothes to create flags. The overboard mate said at one point searchers were so close that he could read the names of the boats passing by, and that he watched them pass several times before finally being spotted.
In concluding his story, the Captain simply said, "If you are ever looking for someone out at sea, don't look 300 yards out...look 50."
10 turbulent days and nights
the slaves are free
but i am not
i came home
showered off my makeup
and cried into my napkin
while eating dinner
i could not stop
i did not want to