It’s nice to find Okie-themed songs that aren’t by Woody Guthrie. Not that all of his were bad, but a lot of us have mixed feelings about him for all kinds of reasons both good and bad. (Mine are mostly around the fact he made a living off making fun of us as much as anything else. But tempered by the knowledge that is making a living in a situation where especially at first he had no guarantee of one.)Anyway as far as I know this is just a straight-up story from Merle Haggard’s life. I’ve always liked Merle Haggard’s music. He was one of the pioneers of the Bakersfield Sound, basically Californian country music, mostly Okie in origin, that sounded very different from Nashville either at the time or since. Bakersfield being one of the largest cities in the San Joaquin Valley where the Okies lived, and one of the big centers for country & western music in California. This is mostly about the way people from Oklahoma and surrounding states, largely but not entirely during the Dust Bowl and Depression eras, were lured into California with promises of a standard of living that didn’t pan out. A method of getting a cheap farm labor force into the state that hasn’t changed much. 😦 My family got lucky, after some time in the labor camps they were able to buy a series of small farms (one at a time, not owning several at once!) they spent the rest of their lives in debt over before being pushed out of farming altogether. Most Okies didn’t even get that.
Sorry I can’t write out the lyrics. Kruschshev must’ve really made an impression on Tony Carey as a kid, he’s always referencing the shoe-pounding incident. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared my collection of Cold War songs in its entirety or not, but this is one of them. (The vast majority are by this artist, he did a lot of Cold War inspired work both under his name Tony Carey and his sci-fi/historical dystopian band name Planet P Project which was basically just him with a synth and a lot of time on his hands.)
I find it interesting to hear the perspectives of different people who were there, writing songs about the Cold War during or shortly after the Cold War. I’m at the tail end of the Cold War generations (I’m about as young as you can get and still have understood what was going on enough to absorb the historical context despite some massive comprehension problems on my part) and this guy is from close to the other end so it kind of bookends things for me.
To me, the end of the world is nuclear war.
Like. Those two things mean the same thing
It’s taken me time to realize there are other ends.
It’s taken me even longer to realize the end of the world is not the end of the world.
It’s taken me even longer to convince anyone that nuclear war never stopped being a threat. I never understood why everyone was so fast to think we were safe when the Cold War ended.
Like. No. Really. I knew those nukes didn’t just vanish. I knew the technology didn’t just vanish. I knew the nature of modern human cultures didn’t just just vanish. I was a kid but I wasn’t that oblivious to the world.
I wonder what Armageddon today’s kids are inheriting.
Understand I didn’t first hear Armageddon in a religious context. It was another word for nuclear war. I had no idea it was a religious metaphor or what religion it came from.
So I wonder what Armageddon means to today’s kids.
Does it mean this?
They were beginning to tell us stories like the above when I was a kid, but it was harder to grasp or believe. Especially since I associated environmentalism with upper-middle-class and rich snobs trying to one-up each other’s status symbols. So I had an aversion to taking them seriously.
This last song, I take as a call to action, to say, “This will happen if we don’t do something now.
But a friend warned me that the tone of the song can also signal despair, and stop people from hoping, and stop people from believing they have any obligation to carry on even in the face of loss of hope.
And I can see that.
So I’d remind people that the fact that each of us individually will die does not absolve us of our responsibilities while we are still alive, it only underscores them. Because there will always be those who come after us.
And I’d remind people that the same is true of us as a species.
It still matters what we do for each other right now, because each of us matters right now.
It still matters what we leave for the next generation, and how hard or easy we make something that will never be easy.
It still matters, even in the event of extinction, what we leave for other life that may come after us.
It still matters what we do now. Because everything now matters.
It still matters what we do for the future. Because the future is not just any one of us, and it is not just all of us, it is a whole world, a whole universe, it is things we can’t understand or anticipate, and what we do has an effect and matters to all of that.
It matters because we are all on Julian of Norwich’s hazelnut together — this one tiny fragile nut that we have to take care of because it’s all we’ve got. And if you think she lived a long time ago in simpler times, a reminder she lived during the frigging Plague in Europe, which sure looked like the end of the world at the time.
And just as death was considered a marker of social equality back in those days, another song from my Cold War collection references nuclear war just before saying “Ashes and diamond, foe and friend, we were all equal in the end.”
Wow I’m cheery today.
I actually love the symbolism of the Danse Macabre, though. For real. It says that death is the one thing that happens to every one of us, that makes us all equal. It’s an art form depicting dead people dancing together, from all walks of life. The Plague got people thinking that way. That’s bleak optimism for you.
As far as I knew, growing up, the world ended with a flash. The only difference you got was whether you were at the center of the flash and died quickly, or a further distance away and died slowly. On 9/11, I was sure from FBI chatter (and lack of communication device) that I was headed towards the center of the flash. I was a lot of things, but I wasn’t afraid. I’d been ready for it my whole life. It only took minutes to adjust to the “okay it’s finally happened, no time to feel bad about it” mentality.
It took a lot longer to adjust to the reality of what’d actually happened. But I was baffled by all the people saying “We’re not safe anymore.” Safe? Since when were we safe? Did everyone forget so fast? And honestly what happened for real was a lot less bad than what I imagined when I heard the snippets like “Plane headed for the Pentagon” and “We think downtown San Jose will be a target, we need to shut down San Jose” and people standing on street corners waving newspapers with “ATTACK ON AMERICA” in giant letters.
I mean — there was no context for planes flying into buildings, and anyone old enough to be reared on Cold War propaganda and unable to get access to the real news was gonna come to one conclusion. My dad was coming out of an isolated part of the Sierra Nevadas and came to the same exact conclusion when the planes stopped flying over (he memorized plane routes and used them to help orient to both time and locations) and he could only get patriotic music on the radio.
And now we’re facing so many different ends.
And yet none of the ends are ends, if we look beyond ourselves, just as our own end isn’t the end, if we look beyond our own personal death. And even what looks like the end of the species may be survivable for small tiny numbers of scattered people. But end of person, end of most of our species, end of our entire species, end of many species, whatever it ends up being — we still have a responsibility right now. To everyone who still exists, to everyone who will exist, to everyone within our species, to everyone beyond our species. We have a responsibility. That never goes away.
As for despair, this is worth keeping in mind:
It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. Gandalf the Grey, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I know I’ve said all this before. But some things are worth repeating. And the memory of the Cold War seems worth keeping alive. Different eras in history shape not just big forces in the world, but also the lives and beliefs and perspectives of small people everywhere. And those lives and beliefs and perspectives and memories are, each one of them, vitally important. They are what history is really made of — each one of us, not a single one invisible — and why history matters.
We all come to the world from a particular place. Each of us it’s a little different. Sometimes a lot different. Some of it is culture. Some of it is background and life experiences. Some of it is our families. Some of it is the way our body works. Some of it is location. There are so many things that influence our perspective on the world.
But we all have one particular perspective. And that perspective is important. Without many perspectives on the world, the world would be in a lot of trouble. We need people from different backgrounds, different thought patterns, lots of different things.
But every part of your perspective, everything that makes it up, is important. And that includes the things that seem to contradict each other. And all the things you’re ashamed of. Or afraid of. Or all the little details that seem to make things a little more complicated. Those things are all important to who you are, where you come from in the world, and what makes your perspective important.
I’ve talked before about being an Okie. I may have even talked about how ashamed I was and afraid I was for a long time of recognizing I was an Okie. There were a lot of reasons for this. But I could not understand myself, or my culture, or the things that made me different from my neighbors where I grew up. Not without understanding both that I was an Okie and what an Okie is. And the history behind Okies in California.
But it goes beyond just being an Okie. There are tons of specifics to it. There is how long most of my family was in Oklahoma and the surrounding area before coming to California. There is why each specific part of my family came to California. There is when they came to California. There is what opportunities were open to them and not open to them compared to other Okies. There is what states they came from both originally and before they came to California. There is who stayed behind, who came to California, and who went back. And why. There is the specific ethnicities of different parts of my family.
There is also the fact that we left that San Joaquin Valley and ended up in Silicon Valley. There is the fact that my father was a very specific kind of person who existed in Silicon Valley, even though their presence was rarely acknowledged. Which is he was an Okie techie. There were Okies who left what were usually farm jobs and made it into some part of the Silicon Valley tech industry.
In my father’s case, that meant he was an electronics technician. He, like many Okie techies, came from a small farming or farm working background. He grew up tinkering with electronics in the attic of his farm. His high school in Kern County had an excellent program. Every year, they built a house. The carpentry class would build it. And the electronics class, which my father was in, would wire it. And so on. They would sell it as cheap as they could to a family who needed a home, and use the money for next year’s house. My father got practical experience with electronics while still in high school.
He went to a two-year college and got a degree that allowed him to be an electronics technician. But like many Okie techies, most of what he learned in the world came from practical experience of some kind. His on-the-job experience gave him enough knowledge that he could do the work of an engineer without the schooling. He even trained engineering grad students.
This all meant that I was born in San Mateo County in the redwoods. Because this was very close to the physics research facility where my dad had a job when I was born. And it meant when we left the redwoods I grew up in Silicon Valley, mostly San Jose. I have also lived in the San Joaquin Valley, Santa Cruz County, Santa Barbara County, and other places. But that’s the basic area I was in.
And that means that while my culture was Okie, this was not the culture I was surrounded by. And I was exposed to a lot of things that most Okies would not believe in. Like all the stuff I call California dreaming. A large, destructive part of California’s culture where a lot of people try to live in a dream world. It’s most famous I guess as a Hollywood thing. Because it’s easy to see that Hollywood is based on a lot of people’s dreams about the world. But it’s around a lot of mainstream Californian culture. There’s a whole branch of the Silicon Valley tech industry where people live with their head in the clouds and don’t seem to have any idea that there is a basic physical world they have to live in. There are also the new agers who think you can wish physical reality into existence using only your mind.
And so I was exposed to all these ideas, even though within my family they got very short shrift. Because like anyone who’s done farm work pretty much knows that you depend on the physical world and you cannot wish it away. And any Okie with any sense remembers the dustbowl and how you could not wish or dream that mess away, and how people created that mess by ignoring the realities of their physical environment. So my cultural influences push me very far away from the sort of thinking that gives us dream worlds, and thinking the Singularity will save us or kill us or whatever, and things like The Secret and the Law Of Attraction. Which are a lot more connected within Californian culture than you would expect.
But exposure to those ideas while young led me to try them out. And I tried them out in a pretty spectacular way. And I never could shake a pretty iron sense of the real physical world, even though I did my best to pretend. And part of that is my cultural background kicking in. But I heard if you pretend something it’ll happen, so I tried my best to pretend reality didn’t exist. But I couldn’t pretend to myself at all. So these were these two influences fighting in my head. What I heard around me and what I kinda knew in my bones.
My exposure to those conflicting cultural values shapes my understanding of the world. If I had only been exposed to one or the other, or if I had come from a different direction, my perspective would be extremely different. And I do think my perspective on this gives me insight into things that are important.
There’s also the specifics of my family, like my personal specific family history. Three of my grandparents were Okies, the other was the daughter of Swedish immigrants. My mom’s family tended to be FDR Democrats, my father’s family were Republicans. Both of my parents had political and religious disagreements with their parents. There were frictions in the family over politics and religion. There is the combination of political liberalism or leftism and a sort of cultural conservatism or traditionalism that’s pretty hard to nail down in words, but that definitely exists in my family and in me. There’s a lot more diversity among Okies in this regard than you will ever hear. And these things factor into everything as well.
But all that, all those influences, all those oddly specific things about my personal, family, and cultural background. Those all and far more things that I could not get into, contribute to what my particular perspective is and what I have to offer based on that perspective. Even my weird little personal aversions to being an Okie, my attempts to hide from being an Okie, my attempts to become something I’m not, my final understanding that regardless of anything I am an Okie. All those things, all those twists and turns, are important to who I am.
It is all of these extremely specific things that are specific to each person that are very important in so many ways. And culture is just one part of what I am describing.
Like you can go into anything. And all the specifics matter.
Another example: I have a severe kind of inertia. So severe that in the medical world it’s been diagnosed as a form of catatonia since I was a teenager. First just as a description and later as an actual diagnosis. Severe enough that sometimes I need help with physical movement through physical prompting. But also not always that severe, fluctuating a lot throughout my lifetime. And fluctuating a lot based on a lot of things. And something that started out not as severe and became more severe over time.
That means that I intuitively understand a lot of the mechanics of how prompting works and does not work. I intuitively understand the vulnerabilities created by inertia. These vulnerabilities are not well-understood by most professionals or family. I understand how things can go right, and how things can go wrong. This is true of many of us who have this kind of inertia.
Some people have never consistently done a voluntary unprompted movement. Unlike them, I have had a degree of privacy to develop certain abilities. When I was a certain age, I was able to go on the computer, in a room by myself, and dial in to BBSs.
A BBS, or Bulletin Board System, was a computer system or network that you dialed into using a modem. At its simplest, it would have message boards where people can leave messages for each other. Kind of like if you’ve ever used a web board for some topic or another. It could also have email, whether within the BBS or with an Internet feed. Sometimes it would have Usenet which was again kind of like a web board in its way. Sometimes it would have what we now call chat rooms. Sometimes it would just have the ability to chat with the sysop, or systems operator, who is the owner of the BBS. Sometimes it would even have Internet relay chat. But not all BBSs connected to the Internet. Many were one computer. Some had their own small networks like NirvanaNet. Which I used a lot.
But my time on BBSs was a time when I could type anything into a computer screen, and watch whatever reaction I got back. At that age, anything I said or typed had a lot of echo to it. So it was not necessarily reflective of what I was thinking. Sometimes it was. But that was not consistent for me. It was formative to privately and anonymously type words into a screen and get words back. Even if the fruits of that experience were in no way immediately obvious. My communication skills would never have been the same without that.
And there are people who have a lot of inertia. Who have the same awareness I have of how it works and does not work. But who because of either their life circumstances, or their degree and type of inertia, have never had that formative experience of typing with nobody seeing what you’re typing. Or speaking without anyone hearing what you are speaking. And as minor as that might sound to someone who doesn’t know what that means, it fundamentally and hugely affects many things about how you communicate and even what you can communicate.
It also affects what you can safely communicate about. Because if you are dependent completely on other people for your communication, there are things that have consequences if you say them. And some of those consequences may be having your communication taken away forever.
But even aside from the risks, the lack of the experience of ever having communication privacy has an enormous effect on a huge amount of things. For me, having the ability to at least some of the time, and for me it’s most of the time, communicate or even just use words in private means there’s a lot of things I am able to say. Including a lot of things about the mechanics of inertia. And the mechanics of prompting. And the inherent dangers of prompting that cannot ever be erased.
And talking about those dangers is hard for people who depend on physical prompting to communicate. Some people do it, some people try. But they can’t always manage it. And when they do manage it, they may face very severe consequences.
So there are these dangers built deeply into any way of helping someone overcome inertia. And I can’t get into all of what they are right now. I’m not always actually that good at describing the exact nature of them. But I am able to say they are there. I am able to say that they can’t go away.
I am able to say that they are different from, vastly different from, the dangers that most people are aware of. I am able to say they operate in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with the fucking ideomotor effect. That human beings are not Ouija boards. That the fact that this takes place does not mean communication does not take place. But also the people who create, develop, and promote the many different forms of assisted typing do not understand this either. I don’t think some of them want to understand it. But others they just can’t understand if they’re not aware of what the actual problems are. And of course because of the stakes, there’s a lot of pressure to not even acknowledge there is a problem. Or to oversimplify the problem.
And the problem is someone like me is in a position to know and understand the dangers very well, and to be able to say hey there are dangers here. And that is so specific to my position in the world. Like my exact experiences with inertia. My exact experiences with prompting and assisted typing. My exact fluctuations in abilities. My exact background in this entire area, my entire personal history, the ability I had to experiment with language in private for years without anyone knowing who I was and what I was saying and why I was saying it.
And I’m also in a position to understand that even saying there are dangers carries dangers for those who rely on assisted typing of one kind or another. I know that anything I say can be used as ammunition to try and shut down attempts to allow people to communicate. And I take that very seriously, so if that’s your position on this is that all assisted typing is nonsense, I can tell you that is wrong. And I know exactly why it is wrong. Because I have used it.
So I exist in this borderland that is an extremely useful borderland to exist in. And all the twists and turns, all the little details, give me a perspective that is important to the world. I know other people with this particular perspective. Just as I know other people of my basic cultural and family background, both general and weirdly specific.
I’m not saying that I’m uniquely important in my perspective. We all have, each one of us, because of all the specifics of everything about us, an important perspective. We need every perspective we have. Even, or maybe especially, where our perspectives contradict each other or disagree. It doesn’t mean every single one of us is right. But every single one of us has something important to give to the world in terms of how we see the world and how we react to it. And when we try to hard to force everyone into the same perspective, we lose that.
Even weird things matter. Like being seen as high IQ and being seen as low IQ, both officially. Having gone from an early entry college to special education high school in that order. All of these things create understandings of the world that each of us has. Each of us has weird little specifics in our life that all matter.
Often it’s the things we don’t want to know about ourselves, or don’t want to think about, that are important. It’s the things we’re ashamed of. It’s the things people give us crap for. It’s the things we’re afraid of. It’s the things that aren’t even true, but other people’s belief in them has changed our lives.
Painful as some of these things are to think about, the more we understand them, the more we accept that all these things are a part of us, the better equipped we are to understand where we’re coming from. The more you understand the perspective you’re coming from, the more you can contribute from that perspective. It lets you know your exact place in the world and that is a very powerful thing to know. It gives you choices. It gives you understanding. It gives you insights that you would not otherwise have. It gives you more of an in-depth comprehension of both the strengths and limitations of your particular point of view. It makes you understand your place within human diversity, and the importance of that diversity in all its forms. It makes you understand why and how it is that diversity can never be neatly summed up. It lets you know how you can use all of this.
So I’ve used a lot of examples of my own life here. But that’s to illustrate something that applies to every single person on this planet. Our culture matters. Our background matters. Our family matters. Our life experiences matter. Our physical body’s makeup matters. Everything about us contributes to this. And the less we can hide from the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to see, and the things about this that are so painful we don’t want to look at them, the more powerful we can be. And the more powerful our perspectives and our use of those perspectives can be.
So I guess the short version of this is: Know thyself. But know thyself in detail. Know thyself fearlessly or at least courageously. Know all parts of thyself. Know the parts of thyself you would rather not know. Know the parts of thyself that you are proud of, that you’re ashamed of, that you’re indifferent to, that you are afraid of, all of them. Know how they all fit together. Know the parts of thyself that seem like contradictions and like they throw everything else about you into question. If something scares or repulses you, look twice, and look harder, and overcome the fear enough to see whatever is really there. I guarantee it’s important.
This is not navel gazing. This is how to understand where you fit in the world, where your perspectives come from, what contributions this makes you capable of or even obligated to, and what you can do about it. And it will go on your whole life. But the more you understand, the more power you have to do something good in the world.
This is extremely heavy on the embedded videos. Most don’t have lyrics embedded but the lyrics can be looked up.
So I know this makes me kind of weird and a little stereotypical for an Okie. But my absolute favorite music is country music. Not whatever the hell they’re calling country these days. But actual country music from back in the day, or country music that at least sounds like country music. Not this crap it sounds like easy listening with a southern accent. Or pop with a southern accent. Or this weird overproduced bullshit that sometimes passes for country these days. But country country. And sometimes there is good country that’s made these days, but it’s hard to find.
But I do like a lot of other kinds of music. There aren’t many kinds of music where I don’t like some of the things that are in them. And one of the things I like sometimes is prog rock. Prog rock is kinda hard to describe, but like you know those long 70s concept albums and that kind of thing. That’s prog rock.
Anyway, I finally figured out what it is that draws me to both country music and prog rock. It’s the thing they both have in common: the storytelling. They don’t tell stories in the same way. But they do very often tell stories. I would of course love to hear some kind of fusion of country and prog rock. But the closest thing I could find was a weird bluegrass-esque version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. Yes this exists, this is “Comfortably Numb” by Luther Wright and the Wrongs:
I can’t find country prog or prog country or whatever you would call that combination. It’s possible, but there’s reasons the two are unlikely to mix much. Unfortunately. Because I would love to hear it.
In country music, the song usually tells a story. It’s often the story of one person. It will be often told from the point of view of that person, even if the singer isn’t that person. The singer may take on the persona of whoever they’re singing about. And that is normal common practice in how country does these things.
The singer will immerse themselves in this character and bring it to life. On a very personal first-person level a lot of the time. They might be singing about other people too, it’s not always in first-person. But there’s usually a story. Sometimes it’s a fairly involved story. Sometimes more of a character sketch. Sometimes just one character at one moment in time, and what they’re going through. And it’s usually limited to the one song, they don’t do entire albums that are all one story. Even if they do an album on a theme, they’re gonna have just one story per song.
In prog rock, you often get elaborate stories. They often have a long plot. They may jump around between characters, not making it easy to understand what’s going on. And they take place over the course of an entire album. It’s called a concept album. I used to, not knowing the term concept album, just call them story albums. Not all concept albums tell a story that way. But a lot of them do. And a lot of them it’s a long elaborate story, told over the course of an entire set of songs. Sometimes it goes in order like a regular story. Sometimes it’s nonlinear, with callbacks to different parts of it in the shape of the music itself. It’s definitely different than the way country would handle a story.
I’ll give you a couple of examples.
One of my favorite country songs is Lacy J. Dalton’s “The Girls From Santa Cruz”. As far as I’m concerned it’s about lesbian horse thieves. That’s what I want to believe anyway.
So it’s about two women who steal a stallion. They get chased down by a Texas Ranger. The character who is singing is lamenting the fact that she has lost her companion Kim. Because Kim and the Ranger fall in love in the end and forget about her. She sounds a lot more broken up about what happened than someone just losing a friend or partner in crime. So to me it’s about lesbian horse thieves, and you can’t convince me otherwise. But you can see either way it’s a pretty simple story.
I grew up on a prog rock album called “Pink World”, by Planet P Project. It is a long double record that tells an elaborate story. Sometimes from the point of view of many characters. Here’s the full album, all 1 hour 20 minutes of it:
The plot is a little more elaborate:
A boy drinks bad water behind a factory and get psychic superpowers. He starts predicting the end of the world (they wrote this during the Cold War). He gets taken into a government lab where they try to study him, but they’re also afraid of him. And he escapes. He can’t talk. But he can move things with his mind and he can read people’s minds. And someone pushes the button. Nuclear war breaks out. This boy, Artemis, starts a cult and ends up saving a bunch of people by creating some kind of barrier that they can live behind. Except everything in this place he created resembles 1984. Or some kind of totalitarian dystopian cult type thing. They stay like that unchanging who knows how long. Artemis decides he made a mistake and just abandons everyone. And that’s the end of the album.
A lot of twists and turns and weirdness in there that I didn’t even get into. But you can see it’s an elaborate plot that takes place over two whole records.
Here’s a couple specific songs from it if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing.
“What I See” (from the point of view of Artemis predicting nuclear war and what he’ll do about it):
“In the Zone” (from the point of view of a resident of the cult/dystopia Artemis creates to survive the war):
Prog rock and country obviously handle stories in entirely different ways. But they do both tell stories.
Here are some more examples. It’ll be a little country-heavy because the prog rock examples are often longer songs or entire albums at once:
COUNTRY: “Grandma’s Song” (Gail Davies)
PROG ROCK: “Thick as a Brick” (Jethro Tull)
COUNTRY: “Jesse Younger” (Kris Kristofferson)
COUNTRY: The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band):
PROG ROCK: Doomsday Afternoon (full album — about authoritarianism and environmental destruction) (Phideaux)
PROG ROCK: “Candybrain” (one song from Doomsday Afternoon) (Phideaux)
PROG ROCK: “Micro Softdeathstar” (another song from Doomsday Afternoon) (Phideaux)
COUNTRY: “Gone, Gonna Rise Again” (Kathy Mattea)
COUNTRY: “This Van’s For Sale” (Wayne Parker)
COUNTRY: “Calico Plains” (Pam Tillis)
COUNTRY: “Up With the Wind” (Lacy J. Dalton)
PROG ROCK: Number Seven (full album — about a dormouse who survives nuclear war)
PROG ROCK: “Darkness at Noon” (Phideaux, one song from Number Seven)
COUNTRY: “I’m Hungry, I’m Tired” (Gail Davies)
PROG ROCK: “Part of the Machine” (Jethro Tull)
PROG ROCK: “Moribund the Burgermeister’ (Peter Gabriel) – yeah I know people don’t count his solo career after Genesis as prog rock, but this song was.
COUNTRY: “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” (Kathy Mattea)
COUNTRY: “Beer Drinkin’ Song” (Lacy J. Dalton)
COUNTRY: “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” (Charlie Daniels Band)
COUNTRY: “That’s Just About Right” (Blackhawk)
COUNTRY: “Mama Tried” (Merle Haggard)
COUNTRY: “Dakota (The Dancing Bear)” (Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge)
PROG ROCK: “The Hazards of Love 3” (The Decemberists)
COUNTRY: “Changing All The Time”
PROG ROCK: “Static” (Planet P Project)
PROG ROCK: “Epitaph” (King Crimson)
COUNTRY: “Somebody Killed Dewey Jones Daughter” (Lacy J. Dalton)
COUNTRY: “Little Brother” (Wayner Parker)
Music as a means of storytelling is really important to me. Music is one of the first ways I could understand and use language. It’s still easier for me to understand something if it’s a song. Or to communicate by singing or playing music. There’s something about music that brings language together. It brings comprehension together. It brings lots of things about communication and understanding together.
By the way, the guy who made “Pink World”, his name’s Tony Carey. He does his prog rock science-fiction music under the name of Planet P Project. What initially drew me to Tony Carey was not that “Pink World” was this giant story album. It was Tony Carey’s accent. Because Tony Carey is an Okie. Like my family. So he sounded familiar, he had that weird combination of a California accent and a bit of southern thrown in. And it reminded me of my father’s accent so I just felt comfortable with this guy’s music.
I later found out he did a song about the Dust Bowl (“Dust”):
And the funny thing is, as prog rock as Planet P Project is, someone once asked Tony Carey if he would ever do a country song. His reply was, “They’re all country songs.”
People react a lot to my hats.
Maybe it’s because I’m in Vermont. I don’t know. People come up with a lot of weird meanings for my hat. They think it’s a cowboy hat. Or an adventurer hat. Or some kind of costume. It’s not any of the above. It’s my father’s hat.
Maybe it’s an Okie thing. People wear hats. Wearing hats has specific meanings I can’t put into words easily. I can look back in generations of family photographs and find people wearing similar hats, similar clothes.
My father always wore a hat. But he wore them for different reasons.
One of my favorite memories of my father and his hats was the way he’d wear it when he was headed out to do something important. He might still be wearing his usual jeans and shirt, but the hat meant things were important and he was dressing up. You could tell by how deliberately he put it on.
And he wore these hats as if the hats grew out of his head.
I saw hats in family photos, hats on family members, I saw the way people treated their hats, the way they touched their hats, the way they wore their hats. Hats are important in my family and culture.
When my father died, he sent me a lot of his hats, and a lot of his shirts and suspenders. I began wearing his clothes, or his style of clothes, every day, including his hats.
People told me for the first time in my life I looked comfortable in my own skin.
It wasn’t a conscious thing.
But the clothes started looking like they grew on me, the same way they looked like they grew on him, the same way similar clothes look like they grew on many of our relatives who dress similarly.
I started feeling more connected to him.
It sounds like a cliché, but maybe some things are clichés for a reason: Wearing his clothes made me able to feel connected to him, I found the parts of me that he left deep inside of me when I wasn’t looking. It wasn’t about how I looked in the clothes, it was about how I felt in them. I felt connected to him, connected to my family, connected to my culture. I felt things that have no words, no names, more depth than you’d imagine from a set of clothing.
But then I always connected to the world well through objects and the connections between them.
And, it turns out, so did my father.
I continue to discover him inside of me in ways I could’ve never imagined.
I continue to discover the things he has passed down to me without word or instruction.
And those things, that love, are the most valuable things of all. They form connections and bonds between people. They’re important.
So when you see me in any of my dad’s hats. It’s not a costume. It’s not a cowboy hat. It’s not an adventurer hat. It’s a connection to things I didn’t even know were inside me, between me and my dad, between me and my family, between me and my culture. It’s remembrance and love but it’s so much more.
People are often taught to view clothing as superficial and vain. To view objects as just meaningless dead things. But clothing can tell you a lot about where you come from. It can connect you to your roots, however loving, uncomfortable, and complicated those roots might be. It can be a reminder of who you really are.
I’m glad I wear my father’s hats.