The Kentucky Derby was …

The Kentucky Derby is:

Exactly what Hunter S. Thompson said it was. It used to be just a week long. The week party that was a marathon, a balloon race, a steamboat race, a Friday party and the big shindig on Saturday. And then the corporate folks got involved. Churchill Downs entered the stock market race. And then our week to shine became a non-stop three week commercial for Kroger’s poisonous roses and an international airport that UPS uses to stage its assault on our lungs – crop dusting us all night with the fumes from the interests of some Arab’s region. The Kentucky Derby is a thunderous celebration of militaristic Chinese explosions. It is a celebration of tax breaks, good ol’ boy networks and bonded whiskey gentry politics.

It used to be my Grandma’s hard boiled eggs and a keg of beer in the backyard. A party three yards wide and all day and night long. The Derby used to be the time when us natives sang our hearts out around a basement Germantown bar and then woke up hungover to sing again at church. The greatest two minutes in sports used to be the T.V. out of place, attached to a long extension cord, outside in the backyard. It was Dad, heading over to a bar, Tim Tam’s, named for a derby horse, to take the family bets to the bookie. The Kentucky Derby was my aunts cutting out little pieces of the newspaper and us kids getting to bet two bucks on a horse.

The Kentucky Derby is a Pappy Van Winkle load of bullshit. It is what it is, just like how the corporate sponsors don’t really want to admit, that when their private jets land, they park their flying machines at the Muhammad Ali International Airport. And what most tourists don’t know, is that Col. Harland Sanders and Cassius Clay are resting in peace in the same dirt where Revolutionary war and Civil war soldiers sleep where the rich people go to die. The Derby was, because today it aint, because ain’t is a word, round here.

The Kentucky Derby is the day, I sit, and wish for the good old days to come back. Like when I got to drink my first Falls City Beer or when Grandma would have herself a highball and then dance with ol’ Grandad! Bonded in memory, his IBEW local 369 union family picnic he attended in spirit. The Derby is all that, decadent, depraved, and Hunter was right. And if he was alive, he would have loved our party. The Wright’s FREAK POWER electrician’s – German -American Club singing derby party. Y’all come! Just 3 blocks away from Mulberry Hill, George Rogers Clark Park. York and Sacajawea may be among the living!

The Kentucky Derby is a horse race, built on slavery. It’s gambling. It’s just one of those things us locals have to deal with. Because money makes the horses go round and round. The Kentucky Derby is Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys singing, Run ol’ Molly run, Run ol’ Molly run! Tenbroeck gonna beat you to the bright shining sun! And that is song about the first derby. A slave horse and Kentucky history. And I guess, this was for Ol’ Hunter, like his put himself into the story journalism. The Kentucky Derby is Gonzo!!, always will be.

The Derby is insane and whatever the hell you want it to be! The Kentucky Derby is … on Saturday, the first Saturday in May and I am a Steamboat Fireman, from the Belle of Louisville, reporting – because I am furloughed. And, that is the rest of the story … The Great Steamboat Race, didn’t happen, just like today, The Derby won’t run! It is what it is and we all know the Steamboat race is actually the race to watch, because there ain’t no rules in Steamboatin’.

And if you don’t know what I am talking about, it’s because you ain’t from around here. This is Kentucky! Just like Twain said, “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Kentucky, because everything there happens 20 years after it happens anywhere else.” And some people say he never said that, but it’s true blue, just like me, and I am John Paul Wright reporting. Amen and woymen too. And, they’re off. Covid 19 with Andy Beshear riding for the win!

John Paul Wright

Madrid, Kentucky

Derby Day

05/02/2020


Utah Phillip’s Guitar – Solidarity Forever!

Imagine you are a blues musician and somebody asks you if you would like to use Jimi Hendrix’s guitar for a gig. Or imagine you are a Deadhead and Jerry Garcia’s guitar shows up in your living room for a couple of days. Now imagine you are a folk musician and Utah Phillip’s son in on tour and you are hosting him for a performance and he brings along his Dad’s old Iconic Guild. THE guitar with Joe Hill’s ashes in it. Well, this track from my recording project #RAILROADED is me, playing Utah’s old AX at a performance. It was sort of like a religious experience! Enjoy! and Happy May Day!

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A possible chapter one? **draft**

It’s a picturesque nice fall day in October. Rich yellows and reds are reflecting off the Ohio River creating a sunset glare that makes it hard to see out my car windows. My name is John. I am a father, a son and a rail-yard ghost. I am starting a new career at a riverboat casino. The place called simply the boat by the locals, is a massive riverboat that does not go anywhere. Seriously, I have been hired to be a deckhand on a boat that has only one function. To render. Render what is Caesar’s has been going through my head as I walk the long hallways that lead from the hotel parking area to the almost a half mile away casino area. Ceasers was the previous name of this place. Now it is called the Horseshoe.

Last summer I decided to get a job on a steamboat as a deckhand. That almost killed me. Sixteen years before jumping ship, I was a locomotive engineer. I sat on my butt and pulled a throttle, then after a few years on the job, I was replaced by a computer. After years of manually running trains it slowly became my job to blow the horn and babysit a computer while it did what I had so painstakingly learned how to do. Demoralizing to say the least. And I could go on and on, telling railroad stories. Killing people with trains, hitting cows and dogs. Long nights, cold steel rails. All that stuff of lonesome blues Americana.

Many times this week as I walked from the training room to the bathroom, I caught myself speaking in a low tone asking, “what the hell have I got myself into?” Just today while washing my hands, I looked into the mirror and said, “Oh God, I look like my mother!”

Last night was my first shift at the boat. As I walked into the deckhand locker room, coffee was brewing. The locker room reminded me of the many 1950’s style railroad shanties that i had reported to work when I worked them cold steel rails. Old men, lockers, union stickers and newspapers. The size of this vessel is insane. The hardest part of last night was remembering where you were in belly of the whale.
And that metaphor, be it the biblical reference that it is, is epically applied. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And that rendering was happening all night into the wee early morning hours. Money. This new experience is going to be a trip somewhat liken to a trip into the hearts of darkness. “Never get outta the boat,” was the lesson from the old vietnam era movie Apocalypse Now.
Flashing lights, bells, sounds, people walking around tipsy like zombies. Regular old folks and their working class conversations in the card dealer break areas. In the belly of the whale. If I was a religious man, this whole place exists for sin. If money is at the root of all evil, then this place is certainly a lesson in “whatever floats your boat.” It is what it is.

– The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died –

That passage comes from a book by Joseph Campbell titled, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and explains perfectly what I am hoping will happen over this cold third shift winter experience. I am approaching fifty years on this planet. This job is another bullet point, another journey on a resume that is very hard to explain.
The work is mindless, repetitive and to some would be considered demoralizing. We take out the trash. What I hope to gather from this new employment is time. Time looking out over the vastness of the river south of the Falls of the Ohio. Time driving out a river road that I used to travel everyday some twenty two years ago. I am going to fantasy that the native people, whos artifacts this place is built on, will also be in the belly of the whale with me, protecting me on this moored excursion.

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The Sabbatical of the Belle

They call me old man.

My crew. Nothing has really changed

in the over 100 years our lady has

made her way around.

They call her a tramp.

The boat. They use her to make a point,

of how things used to be built to last.

They say she is haunted.

By a deckhand, who walks the lower

deck whistling a mournful tune, and

by a captain who loved to gamble.

We are not a team.

For a team is out to win something.

Competes in game-playing.

We are a crew.

Wherein We, is the only way.

There is no, Them.

They call me old man.

My crew. Of young boys of summer.

Spirited like freedom, like

fireworks. Crass, salty and no different

than any other working men –

I have experienced.

They give me shit, and I give it back –

as they carry large bags of ice up a grand

staircase. I shirk that work, as they

miss the details, skip the corners –

walk around in circles,

day dreaming of

cute girls,

success

and

money.

There is something about her –

our Southern Belle. She breathes

with the ebb and flow of the river.

As her lines tighten and slack.

One little mistake could skin

a finger, pull a body into the water.

And that is our only goal, to keep

everyone out of harms way.

The river, our river –

much like how this boat

has been at times.

Trashed, dirty and rolling free,

like the murky blood

of a forgotten country.

And I walk the decks, a reincarnate

of Floyd the whistling deckhand.

Singing railroad hobo songs,

traditional blues. Making up

words to go with the troubles

I have seen, the struggles I feel.

A continuation of a body of

working songs, left in the air

like vibrations reverberating

in time with the clicking of

this massive machine.

They call me old man.

As I honestly greet every passenger

with a southern charm –

that is not a gimmick.

The rich, who shuffle on the

boat without making eye to eye.

The children, scared by the

grandness of our lady’s strength.

The old woman, who rides for free.

The Mayor, just making an appearance.

All the people, no matter

their lot, greeted in the language

of a native son.

Welcome to the Belle,

watch your step and then

Y’all have a gooden or,

take it easy now,

Y’all come back

and see us.

The Sabbatical of the Belle.

They call me old man.

A river man now.

Who once blew

that lonesome whistle,

all the live long day.

I am a stowaway most of

the time, laughing under my

breath.

They,

my crew,

if they only knew.

Old man river.

That old man river –

he must know something.

But he don’t say nothing.

He just keeps rolling –

He keeps rolling along.

John Paul



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On Woody Guthrie’s Birthday

Oh Woody, I am thinking about you!
I have grown somewhat bitter.
I must admit!
I know you – sometimes I fancy
that I am just like you.
But maybe it is because I know too much
and have been burnt by the fire.
So, a few questions I might ask. For
I am romantically involved so as to
mention – Sarah Ogan Gunning!

Was she bitter because Aunt Molly got
to hang around all them rich folks?
Was it because Pete played for the
Rockefellers, while singing –
I don’t want, your millions mister?

Hypocrisy is a bitch!
If you point it out –
they will bury you!
How much more crap should I take
before I “die with my hammer in
my hand?”

I heard Sarah ripped your ass once –
because you did one of her songs.
She picked your little ass up and
almost ringed your neck.
Is that true?

Woody, brother, i see what you saw,
and I think I know why you wrote all
night, alone, falling asleep on your
typewriter, full ashtray …

It takes a worried man,
to sing a worried song.

I certainly am worried.

One last question:

Did you ever hear Joe Hill talking
to you? I have.He said,
Don’t mourn, Organize.
So, i organized my life.
Trying not to get bitter and
am working now as a deck
hand on a Ohio River
Steamboat built two
years after you was borned.

Brother,
I wish we could hang out!
See, I worked on the railroad.
Found a lonesome darkness
engulfing me.
I gave it all up.
Once I built a railroad ..
you know the rest.

Brother,
For your birthday –
I offer you a song.
I wrote it for Jimmie
Rodgers. I have alot
in common with him too.

When the song
gets to the part where
I sing “I think y’all knowd.”
That part is for you!

Happy Birthday.

Love,
JP “Catfish John” Wright

P.S

You wanna hear some shit?
I heard Sarah Ogan died at a
singing circle. Time came
for her to sing. She took a
deep breath, and died.

I wonder if the dress she
wore was blue?

She sure knew how to
drive that steel!