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.

FXEU7592

John Henry The Myth – The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

John Henry was the second folk song I worked on after I started working at the CSX railroad as a yard switchman. The first tune I wrote was Hub Engineer. We will get to that later.

There was so much going on around us as this tune was being reformatted for contemporary use. A new technology was being introduced, jobs were being cut and morale was at an all time low. Written on the cab wall of one of the railroad yard switch engines, in big black letters read:

The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

Remote control technology had been a rumor for a long time and every once in a while in conversation we railroaders would suggest that it could never work, or any version of that argument, however, the union was making agreements, the remote control boxes were arriving and something needed to be done.

I grew up around folk music my whole life!

I was raised by a railroader and political activist! I knew the John Henry story and knew the power of song and being a Sun Ra devotee, knew that myth was important to developing our story. John Henry might as well had been a steel driving man, but we needed a hero. We needed myth and a story. What we needed was good old folk music to the rescue!

After releasing the song, I was sort of concerned because my co-workers were not fully aware of one of their own working class heroes. What was even more troubling, was that the moral to the real folk story John Henry was not being heeded.

Pride killed John Henry, and pride was not going to help us organize against this new technology.  The railroad knew Remote Control Technology was a direct threat to the locomotive engineer craft. They knew the two unions it was being forced on were historically known to fight each other. The railroad worked every aspect of the pride issue and eventually got exactly what they wanted. We were railroaded.

Dumb Boys UTU BLET Fighting Cartoon

Everybody was pissed off, mad and nervous.

Things were changing fast! Operations were changing, two unions were being pitted against each other and something historical was happening and needed to be told. A story. A story about what was going on back in the not so far away past. In some ways, I was embedded behind the front lines of the class war. Sort of a war journalist in a railyard battlefield.

I compiled the song John Henry on a CD titled Music For Modern Railroaders and sold them at the railyard from a clerk van. I think we sold about 200 copies at the yard. The song made everybody who bought a CD from the railroad clerk, laugh.

We needed laughter, bad.

There really was a locomotive engineer named John Henry at the railyard. He retired before the remote control technology was implemented. Ol’ John used to say when the rumors became a locker room conversation, that he would be gone before they came. If you get the nickname John Henry on the railroad these days, it’s probably because you are a company man. You probably need to slow down. He was one of those who would work us out of a job. Slow down! John Henry for ya’ work us all out of a job!

John Henry 2006 from (JP) (rufus porter) to all my brothers and sisters in
the BLE&T and The UTU!
Well John Henry he was a locomotive engineer

Workin’ down in the Osborn bowl.

And he looked at his switchman said you

Better git to work.

We’re gonna beat that RCO.

Gonna beat that RCO!
Yankin’ and a Pullin’ on them cars with his

Switchman working as fast as he can.

Ol’ John is a thinkin the whole time,

A Machine aint gonna beat a man.

A machine aint gonna beat a man.
Well the groundhoggers came out of the shanty

And they looked at the 6022.

Said to each other as they switched on their boxes,

Ya know we got a lotta work to do

Ya know we got a lotta work to do.
The groundhoggers were havin a little problem

They couldn’t get their boxes to link up.

Between a poll off-line and a comm loss,

They wer’nt having a very good time.

Seems like it happens everytime.
Well the groundhoggers hollerd at the bowl.

BOWL TOWR

We’re havin a problem linkin up.

We’ve tried everything we know how to do.

I guess we’re shit outta luck

I guess we’re shit outta luck.
The tower hollers to John Henry.

Come and get this engine outta the way

It’s blockin the East and we gotta pull some cars,

I guess we’ll convert one today,

It seems like it’s better that way.
The groundhoggers sat in the shanty,

Waitin for a Big E to come and git er done.

John Henry and his switchman allready pulled 300 cars

That RCO job pulled none.

But it’s safer when you sit on your bum.
There is a reason for this story,

Corporate greed is killin this land.

If we don’t do something and ORGANIZE.

Say hello to the ONE MAN PLAN.

That’s talkin Union!

They wanna run trains with one man.
Roll the Union on!!

Mulberry Hill

Mulberry Hill

1.
To
be
raised
on the Clark
family home place –
George Rodgers Clark Park –
my front yard – Mulberry Hill –
where Louisville’s first family settled.
I’m sure there is plenty to say about George.
I’m sure they were privileged. It was a blessing –
to play in the rich Grey Kentucky clay! Play war in our
grass forts, throwing walnuts at each other. My
Brother and Sister at my core – our undaunted childhood
discovery. We were privileged to be free to play.
To be told not
to come home
until the sun
was sinking low.
2.
I remember “no niggers” painted on the roof of the
lodge, in the park where we swam. We played basketball
together – they had big family picnics, family reunions.
I remember when they painted over the
wrong words with white paint. And then
the letters would eventually bleed through –
like some sort of cruel joke, like a stain.

I don’t remember seeing any “niggers” in the park!
My mother told me the word on the roof was
wrong. I remember “stop busing” painted on the
stop signs. I remember the two black kids in
my neighborhood catholic school. They stuck out
like a sore thumb. They didn’t stay long …

I remember the mean man who would run us off
when us kids would get too wild.
He ran the park from a little office in the lodge.
His name I don’t remember. He carried a five gallon
bucket and picked up trash.

I remember majestic grandfather cottonwood
trees blowing in the hot humid summer breeze –
sapping cherry trees and the flooded creek.
The tree that was surrounded by a large fence –
the story behind it. They said an Indian woman
sat there with her dead child in her arms.

Her tears watered the tree as it grew around her.
They said you can still hear her weeping if you put
your ear up to the tree. They also said it grew from
George Rodgers Clark’s sword.

Oh how I remember walking across that park …
to find my Dad. At the end of the bar at Tim Tams.

– I would stand under his shadow.
His work truck parked in the lot.
Oh how I remember the real cherry
cokes! Pickled bologna and crackers –
the men and their work conversations.
The wooden shuffle board game and
the heavy metal pucks.
Falls City beer in ten ounce glasses,
salt shakers on the bar –
the telephone that would ring –
the bartender telling the woman on the
other end – “ no, he is not here.” –

4.
Privilege is relative, not a good place to start
a conversation. Political correctness is relative too!
Triggers are pulled and buttons pushed! We can
only be so careful not to offend.

It was a privilege to be a free child –
before Anne Gottlieb was stolen –
before those Trinity boys were raped –
before they beat to death that gay man in
Cherokee Park with a Louisville Slugger.
Before media told us who we were supposed to be –
before AIDS became a household word.
Before cable T.V. terrorized our airwaves
with a constant droning.
5.
Times are a changing. Time has been known to do
that. Naturally. I act out in defiance of the norm. I rebel –
taught to question – raised by resilient men
and women. People who were trying to dream. In America.
The land where their fathers and mothers died.

It is a privilege to be alive –
it is work to tread water –
to keep your head above it all.
6.
May peace be with you.

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



20180524_233048


Meeting The Sun Ra Arkestra – A Chapter from The Table

Chapter 10 – The outer space employment agency. Jazz

Jazz musicians in their solos frequently quote other musicians they have learned things from. I am riffing my way back to a place in time – to a table on a roof in NYC on a hot, late summer night in 1994. If I were John Coltrane, I might put some Bird on it. If I were Miles Davis, I might quote Dizzy.

Quoting other soloists is a tradition that aficionados of Jazz recognize. If I were John Gilmore, Sun Ra’s long-time saxophone player, the sax player that John Coltrane was reported to have said was the last sax player that he took time to study. I would just play. So, I have played my way to a point. Let’s go back to NYC! Let’s get in the pocket. Take it to the head! From the top, of a roof. The roof is on fire. We don’t need no water. And so on.

After drinking cokes and hanging out on a roof in the east village, the next day came and the sun came up and I left Christopher Street and walked back to the Gershwin hostel. The Sun Ra Arkestra was going to be playing two gigs in the month of June and I was going to both shows. I was receiving my crazy check money via western union from my mother, so this was going to be publicly funded activity. The first gig was at the Bottom Line and guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan was playing with the Arkestra. I found some interesting information at this gig.

It surprised me that Mr. Jordan was playing with the Arkestra. Before the show, Marshall Allen, Sun Ra’s longtime wingman, was sitting out in the open, so I walked up and after a brief introduction, I asked him a qwarshtion. Why is Stanley playing with y’all? Marshall simply said that he was inspired. So, that’s all it takes to be a member of the mythical Sun Ra Arkestra? Inspiration? Well … sew a button on your shirt! I liked that answer. I also found out that:

Dancing in NYC’s Bottom Line is prohibited; except at the bar, in your little space. Space is the place and I was not going to be able to contain myself, so I danced. The Sun Ra Arkestra is a jazz ensemble that dresses up in space costumes and follows a mystic bandleader. Ra had recently passed away and John Gilmore was leading up the throng. I am a serious follower of Ra. I used to call him on the phone and ask him questions. My Sufi friend with the Teepee had his home number and I would call and ask Ra one question. Sunny would go on for hours.

“Hey Sunny, what does it take to be a good musician?” And so on. He would talk for a long time. I listened as if I was receiving a personal class about jazz, vibrational healing and human history – His Story is endless … Sun Ra and his band from outer space are featured in a movie called Make a Joyful Noise. In it, Ra recites a poem while standing at the base of a replica of an Egyptian statue.

History repeats itself.
His Story repeats itself.
I do not repeat myself.
My story is endless …
What’s your story?

Once upon a time, I love New York in June and I was going to go see The Sun Ra Arkestra in the meatpacking district. I took a cab across town and was let out in outer space. Or at least that is what is seemed to me. I am from Louisville, Kentucky, and not used to seeing prostitutes leaning into car windows selling their packages. Ladies with their neatly packaged tits hanging out while their big asses are struggling to contain themselves in the tight shorts thereof.

On my way to a bar called the Cooler, I walked past real gay biker bars with Harleys, all dressed up in their finest turquoise feathers and leathers. Me being the dude that always shows up early, I walked down to the river to place my hand into some water. That was all I wanted to do. I just wanted to hide for a minute and touch the river. Take a break from NYC. New York never sleeps and I needed a break from all of it. So, I walked down the street two blocks right into another crazy story.

There was a pier at the end of the street that went out into the Hudson river. As I walked down to greet the river, I noticed a little hut over to the other side of the pier. The hut was made from old mattresses, billboard wrappings and old drift wood. As I walked the concrete pier, I didn’t pay much attention to what might be going on inside of the lean-to looking structure. My bee line was the river that was going to be my connection to a natural world that NYC was lacking.

I had been under the pier for a while smoking one of my last smokes when a skinny old black dude yelled over the side for me to get my fucking ass off his pier. I climbed up the side of the concrete wall that provided me a bit of much-needed privacy, to a conversation with a very pissed off dude.

“What the fuck are you doing on my pier?!” he exclaimed.
I said, “Sir, I am sorry, I was just wanting to touch the river.”
He said, “Do you know where the fuck you are?”
I said, “yes sir, I am in NYC, getting ready to go see the Sun Ra Arkestra up the street. I was early and I just wanted to see the river before the show.”
“The Sun Ra Arkestra? Those niggers are still around?” he said.
“Yes sir, and I am going up the street soon, you outta come up there and check out the show.”
Man says, “Motherfucker, I asked you, do you know where you are?” asking in a not so pissed off voice, so I said, “Look man, I am really sorry and I really don’t know what you mean.”

He then tells me that this was his pier and that little hut on the other side of the walkway was where business men come to fuck his transvestites. I apologized profusely and he then relented his freak out and decided to join me. While walking to the show, I mentioned that I needed to get some smokes. We walked over to a gas station and I asked for the cheapest non-filters that they had. He called the person behind the counter by his first name and told him that he has it and to give me the camel straights. After this purchase, we were on our way up the hill to see the Arkestra.

The Cooler really was a meat cooler back when the meatpacking district was packing meat. I walked in the front door with the transvestite salesman or I guess representative and he walked over to a booth and sat down with some people he seemed to know. I didn’t talk to him again the entire night. I did walk up to the bar and sat down with John Gilmore. I was early by about two hours and the Arkestra was setting up the stage.

Mr. Gilmore was just hanging out drinking a drink and I sat down and introduced myself. The Arkestra is like that. Very approachable. Our conversation was easy. I asked him about the book list that Ra assigned to his Berkeley students back in the day. I asked John if he had ever assigned the Arkestra books to read. He said yes and I asked him if he had ever heard of a book that I had been reading before I left to go to the Rant NYC beat celebration. I asked him about a book called The Power of Sound by a Sufi named Hazrat Inayat Khan. He mentioned that he had read parts of it years ago, but that he was not reading much now.

We talked for a bit, mostly about what it was like to play for Ra. I could tell that Mr. Gilmore was tired. He soon would leave the planet and Marshall Allen would take the captain’s seat of the Arkestra. I can’t really remember all we talked about. We did talk about Baba Olutunji a bit. Olatunji was the reason I had stayed behind after all the Louisville people went home after we “Ate the Beats.” Eat the Beats was the journey further, the title of what Ron Whitehead had organized. RANT eats NYC and the Beats. INSOMNIACATHON! 48 hours of nonstop poetry and music.

The Cooler and the Bottom Line show converged with Sun Ra’s 80-year birth celebration. WKCR, Columbia college radio had already played three days straight of RA on the radio. I had no idea that any of this Ra stuff was going on when I left Kentucky with my percussion ensemble to perform and then host the open stages. I was hanging around for a month because we were all supposed to meet again a month later at a place called the Omega Institute for Holistic healing. The rest of our group, PRANA, was to attend a weeklong class of African drumming by Baba. The same Babatunde Olatunji that Sun Ra knew when he moved his Arkestra to NYC in the 60’s. Baba hired Sun Ra’s musicians and they knew each other well.

Later in life – I found out that the Omega Institute was founded by a relative of Hazrat Inayat Khan. The Sufi writer who I had been reading. The book that John Gilmore had once read, that I was then reading, that was given to me by the dude who turned me onto Ra. The guy who had the teepee where I had made the final decision to go to the crazy bin. Things get connected when you are dropped off by a New York taxi driver named Mohammed, in outer space, NYC.


 

Railroaded – The Railroad Teach-in

This is a work in progress. Click the links as we go … 


1860 – L&N railroad chartered in 1860 by the Commonwealth of Kentucky

In 30 years grew from 300 miles of track to 6000 miles

1863 – Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers founded

1865 – Civil War ends April 9th 1865

Song – Railroading On the Great Divide

1868 – The Fort Laramie Treaty The treaty includes an article intended to “ensure the civilization” of the Lakota, financial incentives for them to farm land and become competitive.

1869 – Gold Spike Driven by Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific railroad. Spike is on display at Stanford University (Cantor Arts Museum)

1874 – Gold Discovered in Black Hills

1891 – Haymarket in Louisville established

STOP – Competition in Agriculture

1893 – American Railway Union – First and Largest Industrial Union formed.

1893 – Strike of the Great Northern Railway.

1894 – Pullman Strike

STOP – Industrial Unionism and Eugene V. Debs

1900 – Feb 3rd William Goebel Shot (only US governor ever assassinated)

1900 – Casey Jones incident in Mississippi

Song – Original Casey Jones song written by Mrs. Jones

1905 – IWW

1906 – Federal Employers Liability Act Enacted

STOP – Behavior Based Safety

1917 – WWI – Railroads Nationalized until 1920

1922 – The Great RR Shop Strike

STOP – Carl Braden’s father

1926 – Railway Labor Act

1941 – WW2

Song – The Fields Have Turned Brown

1956 – National Interstate and Defense Highways Act

1962 – Haymarket closes (I65 ramp construction)

1971 – L&N Railroad purchased by Seaboard Coastline

Song – The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore

1977 – Wendell Berry publishes Unsettling of America

1979 – L&N sells Union Station to TARC. TARC spends 2 million to renovate

1979 – NY Dock Railway v. I.C.C

1980 – Staggers Act – Railroad Deregulation enacted and sponsored by Democrat Harley Staggers

1985 – First Farm Aid Concert in Champaign Il.

STOP – Just Transition

Song – Leave the Lights On For Me

1986 – CSXT railroad

2010 – Berkshire Hathaway offers $26 Billion to purchase BNSF railroad (Largest Acquisition)

END OF THE LINE