I Have Been In This Rhine Valley Before

Settling In

Nothing surprises, nothing wows

or so it seems, until –

music, oh, sweet music can do it.

Politics and train wrecks -war!

Knowing the nature of the human animal –

i can’t get excited about these things.

I used to sing in praise of unions.

People coming together.

I still am wow ‘ed by love.

Not surprised that most can’t seem to

understand me.

I sit now far from everything that was to me, me.

My home, memories bound by trees, rivers, sounds –

streets. Ancestrally i feel,

I have been in this Rhine valley before.

I can’t see much difference between my home, and here –

except for a language barrier.

The old is being swept away.

For something new, noticeable, so-called better, and different.

Just like home. Surprised not at all that the youth wish to leave.

They look like store advertisements for clothing.

Clutching their phone, far away twittering –

reeling mindless yet so real in life.

I hear a blackbird singing outside my window and wonder:

Does it knows where it is and has it

cared for its nation and place.

I am wow ‘ed by wide open spaces.

Massive rivers, small powerful slow changes.

I am surprised every day when I look at the news

that we have not blown ourselves up.

I know one thing … circles.

We are going in them, for good or bad –

who really knows anything.

Photo by Karen Stewart

This is a poem

This is a poem about bells far off ringing in this small Rhine town

A poem about all the songwriters and poets I love who died broke.

It is a poem about writers who complain about institutions muddying the waters.

A poem about loneliness and loud noises.

A love poem about being face down in the grass so close you can smell mother earth.

This is a poem about not knowing if I should be afraid to die.

A poem about war and Nuclear devastation.

It is also a poem about being bored and scrolling endlessly through social media.

As well as a Poem about daydreaming and sleeping.

It isn’t a poem about the critical analysis of writing and prose.

Nor a Poem about sustainable farming or escapist economies.

It kinda is a Poem about building community.

This poem begs you the reader to ask more questions.

It is the kind of Poem that invites you to be part of something.

This is a Poem, by a man in his 50’s, thinking too much most of the time.

This is the end of the poem.


Photo: a visit to the cookie lady / 2022

So, $600.00 smak-a-roos?

I read a quote this morning from Woody Guthrie.

“Just decide what you want to write about. Then you decide why you don’t want to write about it. Then you climb gently and sweetly up to your paper, and with a pen, pencil or typewriter thoroughly cocked and primed … just go ahead and WRITE IT.”

This is the third day I have woke up at almost 6 a.m. on the dot. I love waking up early before everyone else. Today what I want to write about is writing. What I don’t want to write about is anxiety and depression … and finding a way to fund-raise for projects. Or just the business side of writing at all. What I certainly don’t want to write about is AI writing. So lets save writing about Artificial Intelligence for another day and write about anxiety, depression, writing and money. Let’s call that supporting the arts. The money part, that is. One of the first books I can remember reading all the way through was Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm. I was about seventeen when I read it. The reason I mention that I read it all the way through was because in my schooling, not once did I read a book cover to cover and not once did I write a paper. I did what is called fall through the cracks. I quit school at sixteen and got a General Education on Decency. GED.

When I found at age seventeen or so L.S.D., Native American books, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead … reading was not something I was into. Listening certainly was my way of learning and to make things easier Seven Arrows had pictures and a teaching story that has stuck with me all the way to where I sit, even now, cuddled up to my laptop sweetly writing just as Woody Guthrie suggested in that Instagram Post from the Woody Guthrie center. That post with the quote was the first thing I saw today on a screen. Wake and scroll some might call it.

The teaching story in the book Seven Arrows is a public domain story that has been passed down from several different sources. It is a classic hero’s journey story where the hero in the story, a small mouse, leaves the comforts of home to travel down life’s long lonesome highway straight into the riding off into the sunset motif. Transformation with a happy ending. The story is like one of those old AAA Triptick flippable road-maps, or for the new generation of folks, the story is like Google Maps for what happens when you decide to finally do that thing that you have just got to do against all advice. Partly, anxiety can be from not knowing what is going to happen. Depression can come from dealing with the result of what happened and not knowing how to navigate the truth of the matter, when life shows you the raw details of just how mean and nasty this world and people can be. Especially to seekers and visionaries.

One of the life lessons to be learned from the story is when the little mouse finally up and leaves the small community of other mice and goes off in the direction of what has been driving the little mouse crazy. It was a roaring sound. It was that rolling thunder of thoughts that can drive a person crazy when they just got to get the fuck outta whatever they might be stuck at. The mouse runs off, leaving its friends behind and then something wild and wonderful happens. The little mouse comes back to the circle of friends and finds that all the friends are just the same and now suspicious of the little mouse. The, You Can’t Go Home Again, idea. Back when I was doing acid and being all hippie this story meant something different than it does now. What that story is now and has become over time is more like a mirror. Every time I read it, it does more to reflect what I am doing now, like what am I thinking about when I read it. Where am I in the Medicine Wheel of life.

I think I should have been a Psychologist. Or maybe a Spiritual Leader or something, however, the last thing I would want to do is be all groovy and weird or creepy and cheesy. Seven Arrows is a Native American “spiritual” book. Many of the books that I actually read after leaving school were what would be called “spiritual.” Back in my Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Bob Marley days, I was losing my religion so far as to say and needed something else to guide me into what was soon going to be one of the hardest, and sometimes when reflecting back on it, embarrassing times in my life. When manic depression gets a hold of ya, thoughts and prayers, just let go and let God just isn’t enough. At least not for me. I needed a road map to show me how to get back from the end. In my very humble opinion, this is what I find listening to many younger folks now. They lack the connective stories and life lessons that can come from teaching stories and mentoring.

I went into the kitchen a minute ago and had a thought about one of my other favorite teaching stories. It seems I learn a-lot from rodents. It is a Sufi teaching story, called The Cat Swami and the Rats, told by Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. It’s a story about a sly cat in a grain house that tricks rats to trust him. To make a great story short, he ends up eating them one by one. What I learned from that story is to not take the guru spiritual thing too seriously and always questions the motives of anything I take on to be my guide. Back in my day, new age religion was back in town and everyone in my circle was doing something with crystals, gurus, goddess stuff, mandalas, magnetic channeling of Thomas Merton, drums, drugs, acid whatever … palm reading, tarot cards.

So, to get back to what I don’t want to write about and do what to write about, I enjoy telling my life story, so as it helps others who may be questioning their faith, or thinking about doing drugs or goddess forbid, thinking about killing themselves. I can’t really talk about that subject because I never got that depressed and when talking about that subject, I can not offer anything except get expert help. But what I can talk about is transformation and going head first into places that you can not go back to, or even look back at, until you actually do that thing that some folks call, kill your self. The ego. The self. That sound inside your head that takes you places that sometimes you can not control. And that is what I think LSD taught me the most, was that I was not in control. Anxiety is sometimes that feeling of not being in control and wanting to be. To a control freak, LSD might help because for many hours, something else is guiding your mind, or at least has a grip on it and no matter how much you think you can, you can not make it stop.

My Son, who was eighteen at the time, took a whole bunch of mushrooms and ended up at the hospital getting his stomach pumped. He blacked out and was uncontrollable and somewhere in the trip, he broke one of his teeth. He told me when I asked him what he learned from his trip that he would not do mushrooms again. I told him good idea, but that doing something like that for many cultures is not something all that out of the ordinary. He is living with Native People out in Oklahoma and one of his Elders suggested he should visit the Peyote Church and do his trip with folks who know how to handle an eruption such as he experienced.

As a Father, I made a rule with my kid that we would not talk about drugs and smoking weed all the time. Kinda that, “I don’t want to hear about it, I am your Dad.” Like I don’t want to watch him climb up a very tall tree, or climb down the path of a 300 foot log slide that is so steep that you can’t see the bottom. He did that once. I had to walk away. I walked away from smoking weed, LSD and other intoxicants such as those drugs to work with kids and eventually work for the railroad. So let’s cut to the chase. Let’s get right down in the dirt about what I really don’t want to write about but I do and that is making money from writing.

I am a musician as well as a writer. I am also an Outlaw, but that is another topic I want to write about. Money. Yuk, I am an Anti Capitalist, so making money requires a serious discussion on commodities and the movement of cash through a system of economics. One of the ways you make money is by using a tool, and somehow possessing the tool makes you a crafts-person, and then you go and get a job and then the money comes rolling in. Like, busking for example. Standing out in the street where people are and using your guitar or whatever and singing a tune and the folks empty their pockets of spare change into a hat or some sort of bucket. But who has spare change anymore and what tool does a writer use? And who wants to “commodify” their hobby or turn their hobby in the arts into a job? Henry David Thoreau in his book, Walden Pond, uses his first chapter as a tool to let his critics and readers know what he did with his money all the way down to the penny. My dream would be to make about $600.00 dollars a month doing what I love. That doesn’t to me seem to much of a wild hair up my ass or what some might call a get rich quick scheme or even a hair brained idea.

Over the last few days of mentioning on Facebook that there is a way to support my writing fund, I raised $30 dollars. $10 dollars from three people. So in the vein of Thoreau, let’s talk. What would I do with $600.00 dollars and how would I make it? And even more important … you won’t get help unless you ask … so, please support my work and that means now you have a responsibility and you will have to use a tool, such as a debit card and Pay Pal. And see how cringe this whole topic can be? I am three hours into just this post and I will edit it and tweak it a bit. By the time I post this, I will have worked six or more hours with my laptop, mind and soul and be pretty wore out. I will think to myself and worry about some of the topics covered. Should I have said that stuff about suicide? And then I’ll hit the publish button and throw my work out into the world for all to see and that is somewhat of a liability and opening myself up for critical judgment. That is what this work is. Writing. It’s no joke and can be hard and exhausting.

So, $600.00 smak-a-roos? Where I am living now, I have health coverage because of socialized medicine. My rent is very low and I don’t consume that much. I like the small things in life such as rocks and feathers. So, my money goes pretty far. I am blessed and humbled by being taken care of by my situation in life. I am not rich by any means. I smoke and drink coffee. So, that is the worst place YOUR money might go. Into my belly might be another place. I may use some of it to support another writer or musician. If I do then we would have to have another conversation of circles and money moving in a localized free market system. Then we would be right back to square one talking about money. So, let’s get back to talking about the things we don’t want to write about. Politics, Religion and Drugs! Shall we?

I don’t like labeling things. Like socialist or spiritual or crazy. When things get a label, things are sent into the generalization bin and run a risk of being “too” something. Too radical, too religious, that kinda talk. One of the things I hope I can achieve by telling my thoughts like I do, is that it will help somebody get through life, whatever this is. I borrowed that from Kurt Vonnegut’s son. Vonnegut said something close to that was one of his favorite quotes. So to label myself, to generalize myself into a pigeon hole and paint myself with a wide brush, I might suggest that I am a spiritual person who believes in cooperative social circles that are created and maintained for the necessity of providing help or in the service of need. I would also call myself a person who has mental health issues because I have learned to deal with my manic/depressive mental illness. I am a fearless person sometimes and now we are back at that word, Outlaw.

I don’t have any tattoos and I don’t use drugs. So how could that make me an Outlaw? Well, I am not an Outlaw, but Willie Nelson is and Waylon Jennings was, no? There is a real gang from where I am from called the Outlaws Motor Cycle Club, MC. They are what is called 1 percenters because they represent the 1 percent of people in this world who do not give a fuck at all and will do whatever they want, whenever they want, and make no bones about it. I am not that. I am the other side of the spectrum from that. I am more like an Anarchist. And these days, being a socialist or anything in the shades of what some might call red can get you killed, or silenced, or removed from your position. That is why I like the word Outlaw. I live outside the law of whatever it might be that is said to be the rule. That is why I as a rule, don’t plan to make my blog a subscriber per month kinda thing. I have been told by some that that is the way to go. I would rather state my need and see if I can get that need met. We all need money in this pre-apocalypse clepto-capitalist global economy. No? I am non-violent as well and dedicated to non-violence almost as a religion.

So here we are at the conclusion of this post. Now I will wrap it all up and move on so I can get to the editing and tweaking part of this work. What I wanted to write about was faith, mental health and drugs. What I didn’t want to write about was money and the need for it. I did get to name drop some of my favorite famous people. Willie Nelson’s recording Red Headed Stranger got me through a divorce and that leads to another thing I wanted to write about and that was teaching stories and mentors. I hope you made it through this OK. Any questions? Ideas? Leave a comment and don’t forget to subscribe … (hehe). In conclusion, see ya soon and chow chow … Auf Wiedersehen –


John Paul
Lustenau, Austria

circa 1990 in Cherokee Park, Louisville

Even Further

First off I have to mention that Songs Are Blue was written by Jason Eklund and Old River Blues was written by Riley Coyote. Freedom is an adaptation of the old folk spiritual Motherless Child. Ride This Train is a messaround with Johnny Cash’s Train show motif. Leave The Lights On For Me was written for some fellow CSX employees who were working for free to maintain their seniority after coal went bust in the Appalachian Region of the CSX Rail network. You can hear the tune Wildwood Flower in the melody of the song because the part of the railroad that was going to be shutdown was the Clinchfield division. The same area of the country that the legendary American folk music Carter Family is from.

The train whistles were going to be silenced in one of the places “that high and lonesome” sound originated.

That was the overly folk, passionate feeling I caught from the very real situation that was happening to me and my co-workers when I was a Locomotive Engineer. I was also thinking about Carter and Ralph Stanley growing up without those railroad noises echoing all around their mountain homeplace. Leave The Lights On For Me is a direct mention of the empty slogan of the coal industries lobby “Friends Of Coal” and as anyone who has ever been to West Virginia could tell you, Coal Keeps The Lights, ON! But what happens when the coal leaves, people lose their jobs and are forced to work hundreds of miles away from home for free for several weeks? What kind of friend is that? Takes two to railroad.

That exact situation is what inspired the tune Leave The Lights On For Me. I was working with a Locomotive Engineer who was qualifying on new territory and he was talking on the phone back to his people in Eastern Kentucky. He had not been home in three weeks, was making no money and his wife was on the brink with the kids and his life was falling apart. I was also directly effected by this situation because 40 people were going to go in-front of me on our Kentucky Locomotive Roster and I would lose years of seniority as a result. As a union person red and true, I didn’t care about that, a worker was getting royally fucked and I was inspired deeply by what was happening. What was happening is called an Unjust Transition and as a folk musician/reporter I knew this unfair working condition needed to be documented.

If you add the recordings below from Run Over By A Train, you will have most of the recordings right before I decided to quit the railroad. All of the recordings from Even Further and Run Over By A Train were made at La La Land recording studio in Louisville, Kentucky. When I recorded this project I was working 60 hours plus a week driving trains, I was a very active union activist and was close to a midlife crisis. I can hear the winds of that change ominously blowing in these recordings. Thank goodness I am on the other side of that storm. Enjoy these tunes and spoken word selections and please share share share !!!!

I Am At Square One, Again

Well, I got my resident Visa for one year. I am at square one, again. And I am very happy that I get to settle in with a clean slate. A couple of weeks ago, I went to an American style bar and had cheeseburgers. The burgers were almost great. The guy who owned the place came out and talked with us, his wife was our server and she is from here. I learned two things that day. Our server mentioned to my wife that she should speak German to her man or he will never learn it. From the owner of the bar, I learned that nothing has happened here in twenty some odd years. He talked about being back in Miami, talked of sun rays and beaches. After three months here I get why he was talking sunshine and the hustle bustle of a big city. The winters here are long and the sun is a hit or miss event. Seems so at least the way my wife talks about how heavy the time can be while waiting for spring.

I feel like many of my past life experiences have trained me for this kind of small town-just settle in and stay at home modus operandi. Back when I was running trains back and forth from Louisville and Nashville I spent many many lonesome hours just waiting for a train at the hotel or at home. The extreme fatigue of the job made it that I didn’t want to do anything in between that work time except rest. My time spent as a watchman at the Belle Of Louisville was all about sitting, watching, and making sure nothing happened. So, maybe that is what I will do here in Lustenau, Austria. I’ll rest, watch and make sure nothing happens.

I started following the Mayor of my new town on Instagram. Kurt Fischer is his name and he is in the Austrian Peoples Party, OVP. Mind my English, that O is supposed to have two dots over it. So far from his Instagram feed, football, dogs and writing old people letters seems to be the platform of the party. The wiki article about the political party says that is close to Farmers, The Roman Catholic Church and Business. Well, I seem to know a little about some of the party platform, my last mayor was Greg Fischer. He was Louisville’s Democrat mayor, was Catholic, a businessman and wrote the forward for a book about the German influence on Louisville from Immigration. I wonder if there is a connection? I am not interested in politics, but writing old people letters is cool, I like dogs, never was into sports. Soon I will be going to Einsiedeln, Switzerland. I have a serious family connection to that town.

Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische.
Frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz

is a German language tongue twister and this fishing Fischer and my family heritage is all mixed up and kinda complicated, so here goes …

I have spent many years figuring out who I am, John Paul the musician, percussionist, writer, singer, survivor of manic depression, ex-railroader, union organizer, Father and now husband again. I am pretty well set in my ways and know them well. When I look at the Ancestry dot com printout of my family tree, i feel that coming here to this place is an archaeology dig into the deep roots of my family. My Mother’s side is easy as far as the records show. Kentucky and Syria. My Grandfather Mellick was Malik Assas before his named changed upon arrival. That is as far back I get from that side. My Grandpa Mellick came from Lebanon to the USA, via Ellis Island and opened a bar on east Jefferson Street. Was married twice, had a bunch of kids, got divorced, married my Grandmother, her family was from Kentucky, she died and Grandpa married his first wife again. He fathered something like eighteen children. My Mother was the youngest.

The connective roots to this place begin with my Great-Grandmother. She was a Schneider. Her roots are Austrian and Czech, and she married a Kaelin. Through my Paternal side of that marriage, I find names like Meinrad, Schoenbachler, Grazer, Kalin, Lacher, and Fuchs. All the way to the 1670’s I can follow that path to Einsiedeln. I am sure I will have some weird feelings when I visit like I know something about it. I certainly feel at this age, at this time in my life, a certain nostalgia for what seemed to me to be a lost neighborhood from which my Wright side came. When I tell folks here that I was raised in Schnitzelburg, Kentucky, they look at me funny. My other connection to all this Swiss-German talk is my Step- Father. I don’t know anything about where that side of my family comes from except that my Step Father Bobby was raised in the heart of Schnizelburg and met my mother at the bar right down the street from Check’s Cafe. Shacks Bar was right behind Heitzman’s bakery, right before you got to the chicken house going towards Alexander Street, the street my Mom moved to with my “real” Dad. Somewhere about seven years later she meets my Step-Father and is married into the Krauss family. My Grandmother Krauss was Catholic and very Catholic at that. So was my Grandmother Wright, they both went to St. Elizabeth Church. And eventually I will tell you that many of my most profound memories of youth will center around being an Alter-Boy at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, growing up at the Social Male Chorus Gesangverein aka The German American Club, and singing in the basement at my Grandmother Wright’s house. So, there was a Swiss Hall and there was, kinda still is a singing club, my family is Swiss-German-Austrian and I am now here in Lustenau kinda figuring it out that I am going to write a memoir. One of the things I will write about is being a noisy kid. Being almost driven crazy with sounds and music. I will tell stories about my Mother and her activism. I wrote a book titled, The Table that tells of some of this. That book starts in NYC with me going crazy. I think now would be a good time to start all the way at the beginning. I think I’ll start with … Once Upon a Time.