R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: Music (page 1 of 5)

Friday Photo: 6/8/18

“Traveling Shoes, Part 4”
Nashville, Tennessee – May 2018

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 6/6/18

 

“A Quiet Moment in KC”
Kansas City, Missouri – 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

In Which Jason Isbell’s Twitter Account Makes My Entire Week

True story: Our landscape guy used to play in Webb Pierce’s band and I can’t get him to rename his company “There Stands the Grass” #Nashville

In 13 years of country music scholarship, I’ve had to accept that the average person doesn’t know who Webb Pierce is, and has never heard any of his classic country songs. So when I see someone like Jason Isbell not just tweet-mention Pierce but also make a pun on his best-known song, “There Stands the Glass,” it makes my entire week.

See the actual 17 May 2018 tweet for yourself right here. If you aren’t familiar with Jason Isbell, here’s the Wikipedia entry on him. If you like strong, original songwriting, you’ll love Isbell’s work.

 

A Tale for Mother’s Day

Note: This Mother’s Day piece, a reader favorite, first appeared here in May 2014. I’ve edited it since then. Names and identifying details have been altered.

*******

Look at this photo. Study it closely, so you can truly see it.

Staring back at you through sunglasses and sweat and thirty-plus years is my mother—a woman who has long followed her calling, long refused to heed society’s dictates. Here, working as a highway bridge form carpenter in the mid-1980s, she was the only woman on a crew of fifty.

Mom fought the often casual, always hateful sexism that permeates places where people fear difference of any kind, especially when that difference exposes the comfortable ignorance and shoddy workmanship that they have long swallowed as The Way Things Are Supposed to Be.

The old schoolyard insult of “Your mother wears combat boots” might have devastated many children. Not us. It made my sister and me proud. Our mother did wear combat boots: at first, military surplus, men’s size 5. Later, they came from Red Wing: steel toe, steel shank, anti-shock sole, men’s size 5. Yes, our mama wore combat boots every day. And, when the occasion arose, she kicked ass with them, too.

Sorry. This is going to be a long story.
It has to be.

My sister and I were always outsiders. Although our father had been born and raised in our tiny corner of Heard County, Georgia, and although three of our four grandparents had been born and raised there, we had not. We arrived from Randolph County, Alabama, when I was in first grade and Val in kindergarten.

By age seven, country kids know who “belongs” from birth and who does not. There is no hope for assimilation, no hope for blending in. Evil in the way that only children can be, our school mates reminded us all the time that we did not belong.

I still don’t know why those kids didn’t like us. Perhaps it was because we were bright for our age, placed in accelerated classes at the start of first grade. Perhaps it was because, thanks to family crises of many kinds, we were shy, sensitive, and didn’t make friends easily. Perhaps it was because we were each other’s best friend: we sat together on the bus, played together, stayed together at every family and social event, no matter the fun around us. We had learned early on that we had to stick together at all times. Others could not be trusted. Perhaps—well, perhaps there’s no reason at all. But the entire thing is sad, especially in light of children’s vast capacity for empathy and kindness.

The rumors and taunts did nothing to make us less different. The worst and longest enduring of them: “Rachael and Val are devil-worshipers. Rachael and Val are Satanists.”

I have to admit that this was awfully sharp for a bunch of country-bumpkin third graders. This was the kind of gossip grown-ups like to hear and love to tell, but will never admit to having created. Could it have come from adults? It’s impossible to know.

But remember: This was the early 1980s. With millions of parents terrified that random heavy metal lyrics and a few rounds of Dungeons & Dragons would hypnotize their teens into shooting themselves, and with traveling evangelical preachers making loads of money from west central Georgia record-and-tape bonfires, these rumors made perfect pop cultural sense.

The prescient little ringleaders were Morgan and Laura: two sisters, very close in age, whose parents had been high school friends with our father. Haughty, hypocritical, self-important, and entitled, they recycled the rumors every year or so. Heard County schools welcomed just enough new kids each fall to give the gossip fresh legs. There would always be another sucker to believe it. Although we were not in the same classes with Morgan and Laura, and although our grandmother had long removed us from the Girl Scout troop where the trouble began, the gossip still shadowed us no matter how many spelling bees we won, how often we made the Honor Roll, or how well we did at All-State Band auditions.

Once I reached eighth grade, though, the rumors went away. Maybe Laura and Morgan were too focused on trying to be popular to keep them up. Rehabbing their abysmal personalities must have been a full-time job. Had they been better than average looking, they might have sustained the Lucifer talk. The beautiful, of course, get away with so much more.

From our seats in the bleachers with the marching band, Val and I chuckled to see the two of them trying to jump their sorry posteriors into the air. Back then, the cheerleading squad was desperate—so much so that girls with nearly no physical coordination could give a half-assed tryout, fail miserably, and still make the varsity team. Suddenly, with the addition of a maroon-and-gray uniform, anyone could become Popular. Morgan and Laura did. For several years, they were content with their place in the sad, pointless high school social order.

And then, in the fall of my senior year, the rumors returned.

During the bus trip to an away game, third-chair tuba player Harvey Tidewater turned around in his seat to face our mom. By that time, Mom had retired from heavy construction and spent every weekend from August until mid-November as a band chaperone. Bless his heart, Harvey never was one for tact. That was his greatest flaw. In this case, it was also his saving grace. He opened his mouth, and a proverbial can of worms.

“Miss Gina, I have a question: Are Val and Rachael devil-worshipers?”

Mom stared down at him. “Excuse me?”

“Rachael and Val—are they Satanists? Do they worship the devil? I just wanted to know. That’s what I heard.”

Somehow, Mom contained her rage. “Harvey, that’s stupid. The answer is NO, of course not. Where’d you hear this crap, anyway?”

“In homeroom. Last week.”

“From?”

He cleared his throat. “Morgan. And then Laura said it Wednesday in world history. They both said it’s always been true.”

“Thanks for being honest, Harvey. I’ll take care of this.”

At 8:30 Saturday morning, Mom walked down the road to the patched-up sharecropper’s shack-and-a-half that Laura and Morgan’s parents tried desperately to pass off as a custom-built log cabin. She knocked loudly, and waited, and waited. Gladys, the girls’ mother, finally padded to the door. “Why, hello! Sorry it took me so long. We weren’t expecting company.”

“I know.” Mom paused, and locked eyes with Gladys. “I need to talk to you about something very, very important.”

“Uh—certainly. Please come in.” Mom stepped into the living room. On the sofa, Laura and Morgan sat lumpy and forlorn, cereal bowls in hand, eyes glazing over to a movie on the VHS player. She hadn’t expected the sisters to be at home. This would be interesting.

“Gladys, on the band bus last night to Crawford County, I heard something very ugly. Harvey Tidewater, the tuba player, asked me flat-out if Valerie and Rachael are Satanists.”

“You’re kidding.”

Mom shook her head. “I wish I were. Of course, my girls are not Satanists. They never, ever have been. I don’t even know how such a low-down rumor like that gets started. Do you?”

“No, I don’t. That’s terrible, Gina. Just terrible!”

“It is. But what’s worse is, when I asked Harvey who’d told him, he said he heard it from Laura and Morgan.”

The color drained out of Gladys’s face and rose into the pair of broad, cantaloupe-blank faces in front of the TV. “Girls, is this true?” They reddened more, then looked away and down at the now-soggy puffs in their bowls. Just as quickly, the blood returned to Gladys’s face. She frowned. “Gina, I am so sorry. Trust me, you won’t have any more trouble from my daughters. I am just so, so sorry.”

“Thanks, Gladys. I’m glad we straightened this out.”

Indeed, that was the last we heard of the devil-worshipper rumor. Now and then, Mom sees Gladys around town. They wave hello, ask how the family’s doing, and move along. More often, though, Mom catches a glimpse of Laura or Morgan in the grocery store, the tag office, the BBQ joint. Neither will meet her gaze. Each of them—now a woman rapidly approaching middle age—looks away, then down, and sidles out the nearest door.

Perhaps, over a quarter-century later, they can still feel that combat boot on their behinds.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Reunion in Brass and Mother-of-Pearl

Twenty-five years have passed since we last met. Strange, because it seems like just yesterday when we waved goodbye. She looked a little sad, but assured me that she’d be around whenever I needed her. No worries. She’d be right where I left her. And she meant it.

Even as she approaches her 74th birthday, she’s still radiant. Her voice remains strong and smoky. She hasn’t grown gaunt with age, as some of us do, but still weighs in at a hefty, healthy 20 pounds. She’s never been ashamed of her worn lacquer, her scratches,  her oft-repaired and dangerously thin brass. Don’t make the mistake of suggesting to her that those are flaws to be camouflaged and hidden away. Oh, no. She won’t hear of it. Those “wrinkles” mean she’s been places. She’s seen things. She has loved and been loved—and she will continue to love. She has lived fully and deeply, as most of us never will.

Does she ever think of France? Does she long for that little factory south of Paris where she came into the world, where one of Monsieur Noblet’s craftsmen  stamped “9346” in the small of her bell seam? Whenever I ask, she changes the subject.

She’d rather talk about the Rubank exercises that we both hated at first but quickly grew to love, or that grueling Dvoràk piece we aced in the winter of 1993. She gets excited when I suggest we try “Night Train” again, and pushes for a dirty, raunchy, uptempo “gut-bucket” version. She wonders why I still haven’t bought the Dukoff 10* metal mouthpiece that I wouldn’t shut up about all those years ago.

Is she protecting me? Or herself?

It doesn’t matter. She kept her decades-old promise: I needed her, and there she was. Or, rather, here she is, as patient and solid and accepting as ever. As I slowly rebuild my wind and dexterity,  she stays with me. She picks up where we left off, telling her story and mine in that steady, husky tenor—singing every note with longing, and with love.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

NOTE: I first posted this piece on 16 March 2015. It appears here today with revisions.

 

Wednesday Photo: 4/11/18

“Mother Church Windows”
Ryman Auditorium
Nashville, Tennessee – 16 September 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 3/23/18

“Downtown Nashville, Tuesday, 6:00 PM”
Nashville, Tennessee – 2 August 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A song for hard times

Five years ago, I stumbled across this song, and The David Wax Museum‘s “Harder Before It Gets Easier” remains exactly the encouragement I need when things look grim. I love their “Mexo-Americana” sound and unexpected subject matter. This video, art-directed and produced by Shutter + String, is a powerful throwback to some of the most memorable videos of the mid-1980s.

My favorite lines from the song:

You’ve been wrung out and then doused with grief
The ocean of time, in a moment, will be brief
Will be brief…

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Caturday: 12/2/17

“Black Cat with J.P.”
LaGrange, Georgia – 3 November 2017
Model: Miller (with a copy of John Prine: In Spite of Himself by Eddie Huffman)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 11/27/17

“Traveling Shoes, Part 4”
Pure Life Studios
LaGrange, Georgia – 21 August 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

If Blake Shelton Is the Sexiest Man Alive, Then I Am the Jolly Green Giant

So People Magazine has declared country singer [sic] Blake Shelton their 2017 Sexiest Man Alive. And this country music scholar HAS SOME STRONG OPINIONS.

Sexiest Man Alive? In what universe? Have we just stopped trying, as a society? (Wait, no, don’t answer that.) Y’all, I can go to any bar in any town on a Friday night and find half a dozen middle-aged white dudes who look just like this. Standing on any street in downtown Nashville, I can throw a rock with my eyes closed and hit 20 Shelton look-alikes. It’s a goddamn travesty.

Hell, I could browse my Facebook friends list and easily find a couple hundred men who are sexier than Blake Shelton, plus none of them have cheesy-ass redneck stereotype tattoos. Nor do any of them look like everybody’s ne’er-do-well uncle who’s 48 and still lives at home but dresses like he’s 18 and just stepped out of an Ed Hardy photo shoot. (Don’t act like you don’t know which uncle I’m talking about.) Mmmmmmmm, smell that entire can of Axe body spray he fumigated himself with put on before exiting his room.

Jesus, Mary, and Johnny Cash help us.

People Magazine really needs to rethink this whole Sexiest Man Alive deal. Or at least NOT make it so cheap that any middling country star with a regular role on a TV “talent” show can buy the title for $25,000. Means about as much as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which costs about the same—and there are upwards of 5,000 of those damn things making Tinseltown sidewalks that much uglier.

Since you asked (and I know you didn’t, but too bad, because I’m telling you anyway) here’s my definitive list of things that are sexier than Blake Shelton:

Bronchitis
A dirty litter box
2 gallons of mayonnaise
The rear view mirror on a ’92 Oldsmobile
Stewed tomatoes
The Pruitt-Igoe implosion
A colonoscopy
Merkins
Stale Coors Light
A partially demolished CMU wall
No. 10 envelopes
Dentures
An outboard motor
Partially-used roll of tracing paper
MRI room doors
Conjunctivitis
Tom Petty’s ghost
Mortgage insurance
Creepy church fans
Dental floss
Murphy’s Oil Soap
205R65 steel-belted radials
Store-brand maxi pads
Any K-Tel Kenny Rogers box set
A 22-ounce framing hammer
The Microsoft Excel formula for compound interest
Elevation drawings of any Frank Gehry building
The ladies’ restroom on Saturday night at the Flora-Bama Club

Seriously: If Blake Shelton is the Sexiest Man Alive, then my 5’2″ ass is the Jolly Green Giant. Now, if y’all will excuse me, I’m gonna sit over here in the corner and drink bourbon (neat) while I sing “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger.”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 10/30/17

“Old Mic and Banjo”
Pure Life Studios
LaGrange, Georgia – 29 May 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 9/8/17

“Meditation Garden Window, Graceland”
Memphis, Tennessee – July 2013

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

When Dreams Speak

Lately, I’ve felt uncomfortable in my own skin. All I want to do is hide from the world. Everything feels weird, ungainly, and awkward—like a return to my teen years, times 100. And, of course, this feeling hits exactly when I most need to be visible, both in person and online. Of course.

Then I sigh and remember that this is how it always goes. This always happens when I’m dealing with a lot of emotion. Everything has to find a place to go. Eventually, it all finds its way out, in some form. Sharing it here with you makes the process a little more bearable.

This overwhelming urge to hide reminds me of a dream I had several months ago. It means even more to me now than it did then.

In the dream, I had to go onstage at my friend Maggie’s small music venue, as part of Singer-Songwriter Open Mic Night. This was NOT something I wanted to do. I do not play guitar well at all. I have written exactly five-and-a-half corny, semi-original songs.

But I had to do it. Maggie needed my help. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint her. So I picked up my guitar, trudged to the stage, and steeled myself for utter humiliation.

There I was, singing and playing each of my little songs: timid, ready to cry, dying of embarrassment. My performance wasn’t bad; rather, it was just so painful to be in front of a crowd when I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a musician or songwriter. My fingers kept missing frets when I’d go for a C major, a B7 major, or an F# minor barre (“easy” for most players, but difficult for me due to peripheral nerve issues). The muted strings and missed notes made me want to disappear. “Why did I ever agree to this? I’ll never be able to show my face in town ever again…”

But when I’d finish a song and start to walk offstage, the people in the audience clapped and clapped. They kept asking me to stay and play another. And another. And another. Each time I sat back down behind the mic, I thought, “Oh God, what if I run out of songs? I don’t think I have any left…not that I had that many to begin with…”

It didn’t matter. Again and again, every time I tried to leave, they waved me back up onstage. I guess I didn’t run out of songs after all. There I was, red-faced and wanting to crawl into a hole…but the people were so kind and supportive.

And they weren’t just being polite. They kept asking for more—more songs about trains rumbling in the distance. More songs about orphaned baby chimney swifts, and day lilies in roadside ditches, and the ghosts of beloved cats, and the smell of kudzu blossoms in the rain, and sweet, lonely, messed-up fellas from Opelika, Alabama.

Don’t get too excited. You won’t be seeing me at any real-life Open Mic Nights, at least not anytime soon. Instead, I take all this to mean I’m supposed to be “onstage.” I take all this to mean that there are people out there just waiting for my little “songs”—people who need to know that someone else knows what it’s like to be weird and uncomfortable and awkward, yet still fully in and of this world.

Photo: “Self Portrait: Restoration No. 1” (Newnan, Georgia, 3 August 2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 8/14/17

“Brocade, Velvet, Patent Leather”
Pure Life Studios
LaGrange, Georgia – 8 July 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 6/7/17

“The View from Cannery Row”
Nashville, Tennessee – 18 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 6/2/17

“Bass Fiddle at Rest”
Nashville, Tennessee – 21 May 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Reunion in Brass and Mother-of-Pearl

Twenty-four years have passed since we last met. Strange, because it seems like just yesterday when we waved goodbye. She looked a little sad, but assured me that she’d be around whenever I needed her. No worries. She’d be right where I left her. And she meant it.

Even as she approaches her 73rd birthday, she’s still radiant. Her voice remains strong and smoky. She hasn’t grown gaunt with age, as some of us do, but still weighs in at a hefty, healthy 20 pounds. She’s never been ashamed of her worn lacquer, her scratches,  her oft-repaired and dangerously thin brass. Don’t make the mistake of suggesting to her that those are flaws to be camouflaged and hidden away. Oh, no. She won’t hear of it. Those “wrinkles” mean she’s been places. She’s seen things. She has loved and been loved—and she will continue to love. She has lived fully and deeply, as most of us never will.

Does she ever think of France? Does she long for that little factory south of Paris where she came into the world, where one of Monsieur Noblet’s craftsmen  stamped “9346” in the small of her bell seam? Whenever I ask, she changes the subject.

She’d rather talk about the Rubank exercises that we both hated at first but quickly grew to love, or that grueling Dvoràk piece we aced in the winter of 1993. She gets excited when I suggest we try “Night Train” again, and pushes for a dirty, raunchy, uptempo “gut-bucket” version. She wonders why I still haven’t bought the Dukoff 10* metal mouthpiece that I wouldn’t shut up about all those years ago.

Is she protecting me? Or herself?

It doesn’t matter. She kept her two-decades-old promise: I needed her, and there she was. Or, rather, here she is, as patient and solid and accepting as ever. As I slowly rebuild my wind and dexterity,  she stays with me. She picks up where we left off, telling her story and mine in that steady, husky tenor—singing every note with longing, and with love.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

NOTE: I first posted this piece on 16 March 2015. It appears here today with revisions.

 

Friday Photo: 3/10/17

“Mother Church Windows”
Ryman Auditorium
Nashville, Tennessee – 16 September 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 2/13/17

Marshall Ruffin‘s Girl”
Pure Life Studios
LaGrange, Georgia – 21 January 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

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