ELEGY REVISITED IN ANOTHER COUNTRY CHURCHYARD….

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

(Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”)

Virgil Caine is my name and I served on the Danville train,
‘Til Stoneman’s Cavalry came and tore up the tracks again…

(The Band, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”)

I’ve mentioned before that I drive a hundred miles each way to put flowers on my mother’s grave every Mother’s Day. My parents are the only appointed missionaries buried at the oldest Baptist church in Florida (est. 1825). Every year, I walk around to see who has died. Every year, one or two familiar names are added (usually wives joining husbands long passed). Every year, I note the military ranks of many of the departed. It’s a small church with a small graveyard so the military mentions toward the middle and back of the cemetery are a smattering.

Korea (my Sunday School teacher, he never mentioned it).

WWII (the man who loaned us money to travel home to see family the first Christmas we moved there, he never mentioned it…this year, he was joined by his daughter, a college teacher who wrote the letter of recommendation that helped me get a job at the Southern Baptist Convention’s center in Ridgecrest, North Carolina in the summer of ’79….else her husband…the grave was fresh dug, no stone yet).

WWI. (too far back for me to know them personally though the names suggest I knew their heirs).

At the front, the names are somewhat more numerous. Up in that part of the churchyard, the military designation is always CSA. Some of them died in what they would have called The War Between the States, some after. Whenever they died, an alarming number bear birth dates of 1848, 1849, 1850. By the end, the CSA was calling up fifteen-year-olds.

That’s what happens at the end, when your life is at stake.

I never had much sympathy for the Lost Cause or Ye Olde Confederacy. A permanent curse on the slaveocracy who cast their permanent curse on us. As much as I know anything, I know if we’d somehow managed to win, we’d have been the Balkans and the USA would have been some hellish combination of Germany and Russia. Best that it worked out as it did.

But I don’t like to run from the past either.

If I’d been born in 1849, I know where my bones would lie…and I don’t doubt the military designation on my grave would read CSA. If not in this churchyard, then some other, because I doubt there’s a vintage cemetery in the parts of the South where my folks came from that doesn’t have an even longer row of the Lost Cause’s Honored Dead.

Hell, by the time Stoneman’s Cavalry rode their last, ” just eighteen”  was an old man in the army of the CSA.

And it’s not like I have to project.

When Stonewall Jackson’s West Point roommate, George Stoneman, rode out to exact the final vengeance for his humiliation at Chancellorsville (the high tide of both the Confederate States of America and his roommate’s brilliant career, which ebbed away in an instant when a unit from my mother’s home state mistook Jackson for the enemy in the gloaming and mortally wounded him), he left from Knoxville, Tennessee, twenty miles from my father’s stone-cold Unionist home town (where the college my father had not quite graduated from when Pearl Harbor re-directed his life down a path that eventually led him to the bible college that sits seven miles from where my parents are buried, was founded by one of the South’s now forgotten fire-breathing abolitionists and where my father’s older relatives nonetheless had living memories of chasing cows into the woods to keep the Yankees from confiscating them), and reached its turn-back point in Salisbury, North Carolina, where my mother grew up learning to hop trains in the hobo jungle in the days when the legends of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie were still aborning.

From this distance, I can be glad the Yankees won, even in this age when we seem so determined to throw it all away.

But when I’m walking through a country churchyard down here, mulling the gravestones, there’s no way for it not to be a little bit personal.

Even from this distance.

This month is the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s death. But you know what Faulkner said. In the South, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And, as he did not quite say: “Would that it were.”

Rest of ya’ll will know what we know soon enough. I give it not more than a century and it will pass in the blink of an eye. Then you won’t care if the money’s no good either.

Enjoy this hard and bitterly won space while you can.

 

13 thoughts on “ELEGY REVISITED IN ANOTHER COUNTRY CHURCHYARD….

  1. At some point, I’m going to attempt to make you feel a bit better — even if just a bit — that Trump’s the president. Let me immediately qualify that: I’m not “pro-” any politician, including him, and I’m about as interested in politics as you are (I don’t even watch television). If the attempt misfires or has no effect, at least the intention will be good. It will probably be quite verbose, however, so I’ll wait until your time is freed up a bit more!

    Happy Mother’s Day to a great singer I never heard. She must have had quite an influence on your musical tastes.

    • Thanks for the salute!…and yes, she did (especially as regards being open minded and open hearted).

      And I’d love to hear your take on Trump,…but I’m neither pro nor anti (any Civilizational Gloom I feel long predates him). I give ’em all two years grace. If he don’t let me down, he’ll be the first. (I am, on the other hand, utterly fascinated by the Trump Narrative, which is the political story of the age….I just don’t profess to have any real read on either his true intent or his effectiveness).

  2. Ah, okay. Something gave me the impression that the current state of D.C. reallllllllly got you down in a constant manner, so I thought, “That’s a shame…the guy’s written about some of the greatest music ever recorded, articulating things that I’ve never quite been able to…I consider it his gift to me as a random reader, and his gift to the world, really…so in return, I should make him some sort of text present out of optimism.” Well, I didn’t think all of that in quite so grammatically correct a fashion…you know how thoughts are.

    But it turns out that we’re in solid agreement about political types consistently being let-downs, so I guess I had simply jumped to the wrong conclusion — by and large, anyway. (Someone at work once asked me if I “lean to the left or right,” and I said, “I lean back. I don’t trust any of ’em.” At least it got a laugh.)

    Great name for somebody’s album: You Know How Thoughts Are.

  3. Sorry to leave a comment unrelated to the entry above, but this seems to be as good a place as any to ask this (I’m not sure how reliable WordPress is about notifying you of comments on old entries).

    I wanted to order an autographed CD (at the least) from Mary Weiss’s website, so I sent a letter to the address listed, as I wanted to ensure that it was still valid before I placed an order. I also mentioned in the letter that I could send a link to the Norton interview, so the dead one on her website could be updated.

    I included my e-mail address. Mr. Ed Ryan wrote to me today. He’s her manager and, I believe, her husband — but I only think that because a 2007 article mentioned that she was married to her manager. It doesn’t explain the name Ryan vs. Stokes, but I suppose that’s really nobody’s business. Anyway, it was a very nice e-mail, and he confirmed that the address is still valid.

    He added, “We would appreciate it if you could send the link to the Norton Records interview. Thanks so much, sometimes they just fail or break after a while.”

    I wanted to make sure I had your permission to send Ed and Mary the link to your transcript / article, “Mary Weiss Remembers.”

    Thanks!

    • No problem at all. Just please mention that my only purpose in posting it was because I thought it was historically important and deserved to be preserved on the net somewhere. If anyone has any copyright issues I will take it down….And best of luck contacting Norton as I had no luck!

  4. Done. To be frank, I view your transcription as a favor to Mary’s / the Shangs’ legacy, rather than any transgression. I doubt that there would be any issues, as Norton has effectively given up that “content.” In any case, copyright didn’t seem to be any concern of Mr. Ryan’s. He just wanted access to the interview again. He was incredibly polite to me.

    Regardless, I understand the need for the disclaimer. It never hurts to cover one’s ass, I guess. I relayed your message, verbatim.

    I admit that I selfishly hope Mary someday happens to read some of your material on this site, because she should……I don’t know……at least be aware of what her singing has meant to so many. I’m not sure she currently is.

    I still wanted to make sure I had your permission to send the link, because you might not have intended that any living legends read about themselves on your site — in spite of your amazing way with words, and your gloriously myth-killing, protective honoring of the performers in question — for reasons that perhaps haven’t occurred to me.

    (But I won’t believe that the thought hasn’t occurred to you, so don’t even try that one. If I were the kind to insert smiley faces, there would be one here.)

    Sorry to keep posting unrelated stuff. I actually found your piece above to be quite fascinating. Your family’s history has sure mingled with the country’s own soil, speaking of legacies!

    • Well I’m not trying to hide my light under a bushel. Quite the opposite in fact, so the more the merrier and while I appreciate you checking with me, you can be pretty certain I’m not going to deny permission to send any links! Can’t imagine a scenario where spreading the word would be anything but helpful.

      And, yes, there’s a part of me that hopes Mary or any of the artists I write about come across my take on them and appreciate it on some level. I try really hard not to project my “fantasies” of what might be onto anyone (I’m sure it happens all the same, but I do try to guard against it!) and stick to a mix of what actually happened and/or was said, plus how I feel about it. That’s the best approach to criticism of any kind and you’ve probably gathered by now that I wish a whole lot more people (including a lot of famous critics) would do the same.

      And I really appreciate your kind words about my family history, etc. I try to let a little bit out here and there, and I’m especially happy when I can link it to larger themes. This blog has turned out to be far more confessional that I originally intended (don’t know how much wandering about the blog you’ve done but I’ll be happy to point you to some of my longer, more personal pieces if you like…darn thing’s getting to be pretty big!)

      And, again good luck with what you are pursuing. Be assured I will help in any way I can! I had a lot of reasons for starting this up. None were more important than finding folks like yourself.

      jwr

  5. Thanks so much for that nice reply. On the one hand, you do a great job at being objective about “what actually happened,” but on the other, I find the times you succumb (deliberately, I’d imagine) to personal reflections to be among your most interesting writing. Maybe that’s not quite what I’m trying to say. I’m obviously VERY interested in the real facts, as they’re highly valuable to the artists’ legacies, and of course to fans.

    It’s just that great music can make for a powerful personal reaction, and when an experienced writer manages to put such reactions into words, it can make for compelling reading. Exhibit A: This website!

    But yes, one is grateful for the real facts that you’ve dug up / deduced. There’s more untainted truth about, for instance, the Shangri-Las (big surprise that this is my example, right?) here than anywhere else.

    Yes; please point me to the more personal entries you mentioned above, as I can’t help but to enjoy reading bits of someone’s story when rock’n’roll songs have been intertwined with his life as much as they have with mine (so I guess there’s something self-centered about this thought!), even if said songs aren’t necessarily mentioned all the time…there’s just something about a music lover / deep listener’s mindset that merely casual fans of music aren’t going to “get,” so not enough is written these days with that creative weather in the background.

    Also, maybe it will make me feel less embarrassed away from posting my comments about Trump-related optimism, Kent State and the movie Roman Holiday. I’ve managed to work all of these into my interpretation of a phrase you coined, one that immediately overcharged my synapses and made me type a lot: the phrase “Civilizational Gloom.”

    I’ve been writing it and cleaning it up in Notepad, just to open the channel and get the thoughts out, without knowing if I was even going to post it. You know how sometimes, you have to clear the back of your mind, because it keeps writing something out without your permission?

    The thing is, it’s ludicrously long. If I ever post it, maybe I’ll break it up into two sections or something. Leaving a super-long comment on someone else’s website strikes me as being rude, akin to tracking mud all over the floor!

    • Just curious but do you have an outlet for posting? You sound like you should have a blog of your own (if you do, please point me to it…if not. you should think about starting one…be glad to give you any help/advice I can).

      If you don’t have another place to put it and want to consider guest-posting here, I’d certainly be willing to talk it over (just let me know and I’ll send you my email address).

      And the one good thing about posting/discussing/commenting around here is there’s not such thing as “ludicrously long”….Some of the connections I’m about to send you run more than ten thousand words. I’ve taken to writing shorter here lately, but especially when you first start there’s an understandable desire to get it all out there!

      Wherever you decide to post I’ll definitely want to read it so keep me in the loop.

      BTW: Been meaning to ask, but should I call you Chris?

  6. I’m looking forward to reading the material you’ve linked to (in the latest post, above)! Thanks for taking the time. Regarding an outlet for writing, I don’t have a web log, no. That might be just as well, since I am, as you can see by my pedantic use of the term “web log,” a grammar-head. To me, writing comprises 10% actual writing and 90% revision. It would take up more time than I’d be willing to spend. That’s not the complete answer, though. You’ve asked some very kind and thoughtful questions, which thus deserve more than cursory replies.

    I’ve been writing all my life (well, minus the first three years, but y’know what I mean). I’ve published a few books — humorous, mainly — but I grew all protesty about Amazon when they fired all of their warehouse workers and replaced them with robots, so I demanded that all of my material be removed from their website / catalogue / monopoly / whatever you’d like to call it.

    What I started to say was that I’ve been writing nearly all my life, so I always have an outlet anyway. A favorite activity is walking to the nearest park with a pen and notebook, and spending a couple of hours write-venting about whatever. I gave up entertaining anyone (or informing anyone, I arrogantly add) when I gave up on humanity a couple of years back, having learnt that some people had begun to microchip their children.

    That said it all to me about the modern state of our retarded species. I figured that I’d write purely for my own enjoyment from then on, rather than writing anything for public consumption; it’s difficult for me to care about sharing something that others might enjoy while harboring a disdain for the majority of the planet’s population.

    Jeez…I sound like a whackjob. I’m not, honest!

    All of the above is entirely subjective. I don’t overlay my outlook on others. In fact, I’m a bit of a hypocrite, because I don’t refrain from enjoying the writing of others who are generous enough to share what they create with the public at large. Your website represents the first time I’ve posted anything anywhere in quite a long time. I just……had to. I’d been looking for intelligent writing about the Shangs, the Go-Gos, the Brill writers, etc. etc. for years. This is the only place I’ve found it.

    I still write songs, and there are amusing band stories coming up in future comments, but lately, I’ve only been sharing the music I come up with with close friends (both of them, now that I’m counting), if anyone. I record stuff for myself now, really. After three decades of live performance, I’m not in a band at the moment. I broke up the last one when my guitarist decided, at the age of 40, that he would try narcotics. I don’t even drink, so you can imagine how fast that trio ended.

    I overdub all of my own instruments anyway, so I don’t feel the urgent need to form another combo. It might be nice to play live again someday just for the ambiance of it, if I ever get over my contempt for the audience. You should see the people who attend rock clubs these days, John……they drink more alcohol than I drink coffee, which is Really Saying Something. They enter the venue as intelligent adults and leave as wild animals. I’d had enough of entertaining that sort, too.

    I’ve amended my mindset, though: Now this is the only place I post, because I run into kindred spirits here, yourself obviously included. You’ve also done a LOT for the available storehouse of knowledge concerning quite a few recording artists whose work is beloved to me, so you’ve automatically got a dedicated reader here……who is apparently incapable of leaving concise comments! Lucky you!!

    Thank you for the VERY kind offer of a guest-post outlet. I don’t know what I would write about that you wouldn’t be able to tackle with much more insight. I think I’m doing better in this arena by reacting to the great stuff you post. On the extreme off-chance that you’d ever like an article about a particular subject but you don’t feel like writing it, I’m a formidable researcher, so just tell me what you need material about, and I’ll gladly contribute. Maybe I can share personal experience from the ’90s by listing all of the great jobs a guy can get with a B.A. in English, such as waiter, busboy, pizza-delivery driver, convenience-store clerk…

    A bit of humor at the end there for a fellow English graduate (if I remember correctly).

    Thanks again for suffering my verbosity (and being so cool about encouraging it!) —

    Chris (the ABQ is short for Albuquerque, but you probably figured that. I’d rather be called Chris than Albuquerque. That last sentence was funnier in my head than it appears on the screen.)

    Wow — that’s the largest amount of parenthetical endings I’ve ever typed in a row (so why not add one more, just to be a smart-ass).

    • Hah. If you read some of my early pieces in the link, you’ll see I’m no stranger to the parenthetical thought! Just want you to know that if you ever change your mind about a guest post the offer will be open. I understand your reluctance thoroughly…I only spent seven years deciding whether I was going to start this thing, and that was after years of swearing I wouldn’t even think about it….and I have to say it’s been a good experience, that’s gotten better as I’ve learned how to think in blog-post.

      In any case I hope that, be it here or somewhere, you’ll share more of your band experiences and also your publishing experiences. A tee-totaler playing the bars….there’s gotta be some very interesting experiences there. Again, it sounds like you could use a venue, so anything I can do to help/support that, just let me know.

      And, while I don’t share your level of Despair, I do understand it. My religious faith/experience has made me a Stoic. Minus that, I would probably be in a very similar place (or. more likely. deceased, as my Journey With the Go-Go’s piece will reveal if I ever get around to finishing it!)

      Also just want to say that I really appreciate your kind words on my choice of subjects. One thing I was clear on, once I finally took the plunge and started a blog, was that I wanted to shine a light into some corners that had been kept dark for what I discerned were Not Very Good Reasons (laziness, envy, ignorance, malice….basically the Usual Deadly Sins). There are still many subjects I can’t believe I haven’t gotten to, but I’m happy I’ve been able to get to at least a few and add something substantive. No matter how much I’m convinced I’m doing something valuable, though, there’s no substitute for actually hearing it validated by people like yourself, be they fellow English majors or not!

      P.S. I am trying very seriously to publish fiction so whenever you are in the mood to unload about your publishing experiences, good or bad, I am ready to lend an ear.

      Oh, and one last thing…If you find an older piece and want to comment there, it WILL come to the top of my comments section. You can always check there and, if for any reason it doesn’t appear on the front page, just let me know and I’ll track it down. But I’ve never had that particular aspect malfunction so I’m pretty confident it will work as intended.

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