He said, “well, you are free!” I was talking to my hobo, rail-yard ghost- train riding friend while standing on the backside of my workplace. A river front life saving station positioned at mile 604 at the Louisville city front on the Mighty Ohio River is where I report for duty. A cold front was moving through whipping up cold wind and waves. I said, “hey, Jonah (my son) turned eighteen yesterday …” And it was a phone call from another world, to my world. In his world he is still roaming around from siding to siding. He just bought his little Big Rock Candy Mountain. His version of Payne Hollow, Walden Pond, upstate Wisconsin. A big river follows along the backside, train tracks bordering his front.
Free? I am free, to a degree. To wonder, wait and hope that all those seeds I planted in that kid, will grow. The strategic subtle mentions. The moral to the stories. The dark places. The radical union meetings, passing motions – all that. And later I realized why I was feeling funny all day. This day would have been my twenty fifth year anniversary with his Mom. But, that is how far away from all that I am now. That date will pass by like the drift in this river. I’ll notice its passing. And as it passes, it may be useful at the time. Might pick it up out of the river of life and admire a little of its worn away usefulness. Might remember something fond of what was an entire lifetime of something loving and honorable to be. Maybe memories will flood in, resembling a town once visited, like taking an unfamiliar exit on a dark- fog filled late night highway or pondering a yellowed family vacation photo of people I have never met.
And in this new brave digital world, photos will not yellow with time. The news articles will not crumble in some stored away manila folder. Family photos may be obsolete in the next decade as computers switch to a new file format. Most of what happens in these so called end days, happens in a place where there is no darkness. And yes, that is Orwellian as fuck. AF. Just as dark as the place I would have to go to continue this prose, uninterrupted- alone and isolated for days on end. But, and most importantly, I am not in that place right now. RN. The rest of the world may, in these pandemic times, be getting a taste of what it feels like to be a writer or a creative person. Creativity strikes, like a virus, and then you are forced to live or die from a want to produce. And sometimes in that place of isolated creative fire, hours on hours going by cutting and pasting, practicing, rolling out words from a place inside you infected with a desire to walk that razor blade of vanity, you isolate. You put on that mask. You do the work of the fool.
The rest of the world may as well be writing the Newspeak dictionary!RN, AF, double plus good, LMAO, emoji this, meme this and that. Time. Dystopian times. In a week we leave on this steamboat to be gone for a week. Clickty clackity, pushing upriver. In many ways, this will be my “hearts of darkness” trip, my “never get out of the boat” moment. I have an active imagination, Y’all. I have nothing to prove, no point to make. I am leaving myth and messages on a forest path of an escape. We will be leaving from the same place Lewis and Clark once left, whitewashing their way across an unexploited Undaunted Courage.
And as I write this prose, history is being retold. His story! The winners have lost control of their narrative. Statues are being taken off pedestals. A great power shift is happening. Things are in motion that can not be undone. All the Gods and Goddesses of colonial industry have been exposed and are dead or dying. The old money can’t keep up with the new developers and their ghost armies of followers and fans. The pendulum is swinging in a violent unmanageable windstorm of change. Heroes and heroine are being defaced and new slogans quickly installed. And all this stream of conscience drifting was inspired by one phone call from a friend. A rail-yard ghost called from a far. An ol’ pal of the Kerouac suggestion of free roaming. The let’s just go and see people. The “if there is a lower class, then I am of it,” folks. This writing might as well be a middle finger to the law and order crowd, or at least, maybe, a message of warning: Your Slip Is Showing. You fascists are losing your damned minds and losing favor with a new generation of electronically educated, self inspired natives. I can hear the far off drums! Can you?
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow. So, I loaded up the art car for a trip back down to this family lake house some 80 miles west of my hometown of Louisville and hit the road about sundown. Time to get the fuck out of dodge. Loaded up my aging chocolate lab Duke like he was R2D2. Duke is 16 years old and riddled with cancer and arthritis. So, I gently placed him in the back seat. Put on one of my favorite Grateful Dead recordings, Live Dead and now it’s the test of the boomerang, tossed into the night of redeeming. So this is the return.
It rained like a motherfucker all the way out Dixie Highway. 31w. Fort Knox. Out highway 60 twords Owensboro, Kentucky. Follow 60 until you get to that place that used to be called, “Hog Wallow” Kentucky and then follow 333 into the winding roads of Central Kentucky, industrial farming … dot dot dot … and I know these roads like the back of my hand. Country roads, take me home, I digress, often.
When I left this place in the spring, Louisville was all crazy, the pandemic was setting in, and the national guard had been called into the streets of town. I was spending time out here, so as to get away from all the bullshit drama of how Kentucky was just going to just have to deal with this almost unreasonable attempt at a Government issued MRE packet style monetary assistance project. When I left, I was just getting to know the Mennonite family out on the “state” road. Now I am back, Breonna Taylor is the acting mayor of Louisville and the pandemic is?
The pandemic is whatever you think the pandemic is. Because nobody trusts anything. The news makes no sense and because this country has been pushed to the brink of civil war, culture war, go ahead and try and make heads or tails out of this that or the other. Out here in Central Kentucky, it is a whole different ballgame. Wear a mask of social distortion out here in farm country and get your ass run off. This place is no place for a revolution. This is industrial farming and Anarcho-syndicalism territory. One of the last conversations I had with the Mennonite father was about what his politics might be. Of course “they” don’t participate in American politics, so my definition of his brand of “Anarchist Action” fell of Pennsylvanian German, whatever the fuck language “they” speak deaf ears.
So, this is the return report. This is a brief announcement. Follow this site for more. Share this link and all that Jazz. My plan is to write like crazy and stay down here for a while. More to come, news at eleven. Or The Eleven. That is that boomerang reference. Robert Hunter wrote that poem for the Dead. Got it? Pay Attention and you do the googling. I’ll file the reports, you do the math. This report is being filed with an on-line zine that my Shanty Boat friend Wes Modes is running. Unavoidable Disaster. Look it up. He is at his makeshift California deportee camp now. Run off by fire! He is a real Burning Man, know what I mean, Vern?
Report : Sunday the 7th of June at 0800 hours. Watchman, swing shift. Mile Post 604, Louisville wharf. It will be my job to take care of two national monuments. One, the only Steamboat left in working condition from the old steamboat days of American River transportation era and the other The Andrew Broaddus. A Life Saving Station that is older than the U.S. Coast Guard. And no this is not fiction. This is really what I am doing right now.
When I first arrived on April 9th, the Covid- 19 was a new bestselling novel and my town was just starting to lock itself down for what was to come. Our corporate lawyer Governor was keeping the peace everyday at 5 pm. with his Andy Griffith style swagger in the form of a daily job briefing slash safety meeting of a sorts – every body find a place of safety, we will get through this, we will get through this together. I am actually glad, he is bringing a much needed calmer voice than the Tea Party dingbat we had before in Bevin, however, this Democrat we got now is privileged to the gills, comes from a lawyer career political family. He has his work cut out for him now. The streets in Louisville now?
Here is the news report:
Current location, stalled in Jefferson County, Kentucky
Eye Location – Jefferson Square, Downtown Louisville.
and BTW, that song sounds like what is going on in my town, look it up. Confusion Break Bones.
This will be my last report from the isolation of this Rough River Location. I will be back staying at one of the busiest intersections in Louisville. Back to the Gonzo neighborhood of town, back to work and back to …. fuck, I don’t know. And that was the point of coming down here in the first place but back when I came, my whole town was not in the condition that it is now. I can’t wait to roll into town. This place Lothlórien, my family hermitage,is awfully lonesome, and that was the isolation I was looking for.
The plan was to come down here and answer some deep personal questions. Take the time to get up in my head and work on some poetry, music, do some emotional reorganization and get back to work when the Belle called. I did work on the poetry. I did collect and compile my songs. And I have as of this word, written 16,000 some odd words of a small book. It feels like I didn’t really get anything done. Except have a vision quest and a feeling of absolute resolve come over me. I got pretty depressed, smoked too many cigarettes, watched too many crazy movies, drove about 1000 miles of back roads, made friends of a few Mennonites and drank a fifth of Kentucky Tavern to boot.
I did stop mourning and now it’s time to Organize. I spoke to the mourning doves! Listened to the owls. Watched Blue Jays have territory wars. This place is a natural fact! I was inspired somewhat moved watching Mennonites work. Their family structure albeit is patriarchal and religious based is quite beautiful Take the good and leave the bad! I feel like I have gone crazy and my methods are unsound. And yes I do quote from Apocalypse Now a bunch, matter of fact I am listening to the Apocalypse Sessions right now that Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead recorded for the documentary, Hearts of Darkness. Once a deadhead, always a deadhead. What a long strange two months it has been.
I am, right now, typing like mad, getting this all out before I report for my mission. I feel like I could punch a mirror and collapse on the floor with a bleeding fist – with blood all over my face naked and broken. Naked. This is me, Y’all. I am worried! It’s time to come home! It takes a worried man to sing a worried song. I am worried now. Deeply worried, maybe even troubled by what I am seeing from the news reports and live Facebook vids.
I read somewheres once that people from Kentucky are always in a state of going home. Well, so be it. I talked with an organizer friend from the Bay Area today for a long time and he talked about Gary Snyder and hwis mountain walks. He gave me an account of what is going on out there in Oakland. We talked about our organizing years ago. We talked Railroad Workers United and Dirty Face and all the Hobo stuff and a possible trip out west.
Today, for some reason, I posted a link to a blog-post about the recording I made with my ex-wife, Tapestry. We did a piece that she was inspired to write from a Wendell Berry poem. And yes I talk about Wendell too much and yes he is privileged out the kwazoo and yes I rode in his truck and yes, yes, yes. And who gives a fuck. I do. Partly my insanity, my Balrog so to speak, that I have been fighting, is all that bitterness of not being able to seemingly get any attention for all the work I did when I decided to quit my job and become a river man. I am a river man. Sort of. I come from the Derby City, where women are fast and horses are pretty, can you hear that thunder, you better run you better take cover, because Hurricane Justice is in town. I digress all the goddamn time Y’all.
I looked up Balrog on wikipedia, I donate to wikipedia BTW, double plus good, and I spelled Balrog correctly. Ok, friends, fellow workers, here is the skinny. Before I came down here, I was making these crazy off the cuff videos and in those vids, sometimes R2D2 would make an appearance. I would ask him questions and my roommate Geoff Gage thought that was funny as hell. When I left the ol’ homeplace to come down here, I said out loud, as I turned the key in my art car, my black stallion – “Set the controls for the Degoba system. Time to go visit Yoda.”
My walking stick that I made from a Sassafras tree was in the back seat. I took that walking stick when I first visited Payne Hollow, Harlan Hubbard’s place, and came on down to the lake to find some conclusions – while my town was dealing with the Corona Virus. I needed to break anyway and conditions were favorable. I did fight the Balrog. I am now John Paul the White. Do y’all get it? All this myth and why? I am hoping this writing presents many questions. I hope young people who understand half of what I am saying will inquire within. This is coming to a conclusion. I am coming home. The war for Middle Earth is upon us. I am leaving Lothlorien, a new man. Really. WTF.
I have to be very honest. One of the other reason I came down here was to find my Anna. That would be Harlan’s wife. Anna Hubbard. I didn’t find her. I tried some Facebook dating, and seriously? I had a fun time making Facebook find all the women who list themselves as “Spirtitual” and whoa was that funny. I got a download that mercury was in retrograde and decided to to some thumb yoga and deleted that APP. Whoa. I did have a visitor. Actually, I had a couple friends come down and that is the point … friends. But, the other night, around a star soaked fire, a friend of mine, I met down river, visited the lake and we had a wonderful night. We talked. And that was all.
Of all the women I have flirted with, she is the one who I do get that fuzzy spark feeling about. She is long and tall and half my age and we are getting to be very close friends. Friends. I am going to have to turn off my feelings for her. I guess that was the lesson I got from that Elder/Student experience. Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Oh, God, here comes word association. The Police, fuck the police, they have been running a little hot. I can barely see the road from the heat coming off of it. Now would be a good time to roll a cigarette, adjust my saddle, reach down between my legs and ease the seat back. God I am so Gen-X … I can only hope Hot For Teacher is next.
So, writing in circles and blowing smoke rings.
This Isolation Report is most likely redundant in some places. It is, what it is. And I must mention again that the woman who crashed her X-wing fighter in my Walden Pond so to say, when she visited ,gave some of the best advice about that worry I was having about talking about Wendell Berry too much. She said, “own it.” She said that down river months ago and it has resonated over and over in my head ever since. And I do own it, in a folkways kinda storyteller way. Now I have lots of work to do because of the inspiration taken from those meetings. I feel like those meetings were me, the warrior, meeting with Wendell, the wise elder, and me, trying not to have a Black Elk Speaks Moment. While she was down here, the woman who visited, that young woman who is questioning her religion and at a juncture in her life, while she was here, our meeting by the river was something to take me away from this life journey that I have been on, it was a nice exit so to say from this highway. We talked about dating and she gave me some real talk. Told me to have patience. We did at least come to a small conclusion, or maybe I did .. we are going to have to stop meeting like this.
So in conclusion.
I’ll be home soon. I have a new found resolve to get back involved in some way in the activism department. I was feeling terribly guilty for being down here, 80 miles away from one of the biggest battles of my lifetime in the streets of my hometown. But … and that is a big but. As a seasoned activist, I am not healthy enuf for front line battles. I am an new elder. However, and that is a transition that make me sound educated. Yo Yo Yo! Steal This Book! Share this story. It’s nuts and going around and around – it is full of name dropping, grammatical mistakes and all that shit. It’s kinda country, kinda city. I am in someways a Southern man, and in someways a hippie. I feel as if I have figured some things out and will be returning to my city, to be in. That’s it … we need a be in. Let’s all BE IN. OK, settle down. Just go home John. OK, I am talking to myself. I think I have gone crazy, maybe a little Gonzo.
So in the tradition of 1980’s rap. I am a bad ass MC. I have a million watts of power coming outta my mouth, making all the young ladies want to scream and shout. With a different beat for everyday of the week, so.
In further conclusion. I am a Fat Boy. Gen-X. Covid19 / LOL — WTF – this is NEWSPEAK 1984. Double plus Good –> Madrid, KY —> GDTRFB —> 8 more miles to looieville —> Slipknot —> Drums —> Wendell Berry —> Uncle John’s Band —> Catfish John —> Ginseng Sullivan —> U.S Blues
enc. Sing Me Back Home.
This has been one hell of journey into the self. I do feel I have left a certain Slipknot. I can’t wait to pack up and come home to whatever the hell this is.
(Tapestry was a joint project of two people struggling with an isolated home life and the rigors of railroading. The songs were born of that difficult life experience.)
That is what I wrote then … now is a different story.
This project was born of meeting with Wendell Berry twice at his kitchen table and basically walking in Eugene V. Debs shoes for 16 years. It was for me, Donna channeling Joe Hill and providing music for a song he wrote that never had a melody.
And because of Donna Lynn’s side of the story, the song she sang of Joe Hill’s Dance This Waltz was exactly the Tango of a life experience and what had caused a large part of our struggle. She was the stay at home, homeschooling mother with an overworked – burning out union activist husband gone MIA from the family.
Donna is an amazing singer and poet in her own rite, and several of her pieces are deep and touching. We may not be together now, but this project was us at our creative best.
After Donna and I parted ways … I couldn’t play my guitar for almost two years because it reminded and sounded of this recording. I am just now, three years later just getting back to it.
If you listen to my track Freedom, what you are listening to is a man, at the end of his rope, barely hanging on to some very stressed frayed edges. I was exhausted, worn out and almost lost.
Now i am found.
The song Donna Lynn sang, that is inspired from a poem that Wendell Berry wrote, is my favorite on this recording. We went out to his farm to seek permission to record it and he was blown away. Donna sang like a bird and he told her that she could use it, and would be fine with her working on other poems if she wanted.
I got a chance again to talk shop with Wendell. It was truly a wonderful day.
Please fell free to share this recording, the song Songs Are Blue … shoot listen to that .. we sure could use a little bit of what Jason Eklund was writing when he wrote that masterpiece.