Archive for January, 2011

#70 I Sold the Arabs the Moon- When we fly we all become philosophers.

Posted in Cracker, David Lowery Solo with tags , on January 26, 2011 by davidclowery


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06 I Sold The Arabs The Moon

First of all let me openly acknowledge I am hijacking my blog for a few days to talk about the songs on my upcoming solo album  The Palace Guards.  Available everywhere Feb 1st.
And I know I have a lot of competition this week.  It looks like a number of my peers are releasing records.  So let’s quickly review them.
First off Iron and Wine has a new album out. Kiss Each Other Clean. I am told it is a 45 minute field recording of Sam Beam humming The Theme to a Man And a Woman while he vacuums.*
Then there is the new Deerhoof album which is titled Deerhof vs Evil. This is also a strange album.  It consists entirely of Brittany Spears covers with vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki singing in a fake texas accent ala Stan Ridgeway of Wall of Voodoo.  **
Finally there is REMs new record “Mine Smell Like Honey”  which is a concept record about Michael Stipe’s testicles. ***

So as you can see you are much better off spending your 8, 10 or 12 dollars this week on my new solo Album The Palace Guards.
Click Here to buy an autographed CD from Newbury Comics.

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There is this magnificent book by gabriel Garcia Marquez titled the Autumn of the Patriarch.  A sprawling first hand account of a south american’s dictators improbable 100+ year rule.
Throughout the story the dictator repeatedly sells out to various world powers  eventually selling the sea to the Yanquis.
I loved this phrase.  I’ve turned on my tongue many times while strumming guitar trying to fit it into a song.
I never found a home for this phrase until in 2009 I  found myself inexplicably flying in a US Army combat helicopter 2500 meters over Iraq. We were on our way from the Coalition base at Basra International Airport to a US armed forces base variously referred to as Camp Adder by the US army or Ali airbase by US Air Force. Most People call it Talill.

We were engaged in what had become the familiar GI shit talking on headsets as we flew.  Questions from the crew about details of life touring in a rock band.  Us asking questions about their lives, their experiences and some good gossip about  celebrities politicians and others they had ferried around Iraq.

At some point one of the pilots or crew members mentioned that we would be flying over the Ziggurat of Ur.  Although I had spent a good deal of time prepping for this trip by reading histories of Iraq and accounts of both Iraq wars,  I didn’t know what this was.

“It marks the city of Ur which is literally the birthplace of civilization”

“Ur was probably the first or one of the first urban human settlements,  the first city”. another unknown voice on the internal comms chimed in.

The pilots obliged us by banking the aircraft in a large arc as we went into Talill so we could get a look at this historic site.

The ziggurat comes clearly in focus at 0:12 seconds.

I remember looking down at this and getting this weird sensation.  This feeling that you sometimes get when you are flying and you see the curvature of the Earth.

You get this sense of how small you are.  How short your life is in the span of human history.  How insignificant your small deeds and actions.  At the same time you get a glimpse of the huge yet unseen forces that shape everything we do.

The green of the land between the rivers Euphrates and Tigres.  The great arc of the fertile crescent that produced the first large groups of non-nomadic peoples. How the land itself shaped who we are and what we do.  Farming and craftsmen then produced a (relatively) gentle life that produced cities scholars and philosophers. The great expanse of desert on one side. A harsh wilderness to some but a home of sorts to nomadic tribes like the arabs.  They became skilled warriors and traders taking goods from once place to another.

The Kurds on the other hand in their distant blue mountains, their strongholds they are independent and wary.   Their great herds of livestock still the cultural link between the eurasian steppes and the Persian gulf.   The people of this land also straddle the linguistic divide  between the semitic languages of the south, the Indo European mother tongue to the north and the mongol horseman borne languages of the East.

At an altitude like this you can see how the land shaped the people. At an altitude we all  become philosophers.

And other things.   I had an officer comment to me that we won’t leave Iraq for a long time because:

“we’ve scrambled their economy and now it’s reassembled around our supply lines.  The gulf arabs come in from the south and the Turks from the north. They use our supply lines.  It started with their mobile phone companies now it’s their construction companies, and so on…when you fly back to kuwait you can see the flow of containers and equipment coming in.  It dwarfs what we are taking out”.

There it is again.  When you fly you become an economist, a geopolitical scientist and a philosopher.

So here I was a son of a career US Air Force NCO.  I couldn’t help noticing the vast infrastructure of the Air that we were building.  Rows of antennae  non-directional helixes,  which told me they were for speaking to “birds’ or satellites.  As well as the more familiar satellite dishes.  Air Traffic towers,  infrastructure for unmanned ariel vehicles,  airstrips for our large aircraft, and the strangely  a high tech reprise of Edwardian blimps bristling with sensors and cameras.  All this showing no sign of a drawdown.  Sure we’re removing most of our  ground forces,  but instead we  leave behind our  dour civillian contractors with their mustaches and sunglasses. Our clever Australian, South African and English engineers to build and man our lethal redoubts.  Our invisible fortresses in the Air.  No one will notice.

Although unsure about the wisdom of this naked thrust of our imperial might my chest couldn’t help swelling with pride for my country.  I suddenly felt like chanting USA USA USA!!

The English and their grey warships.  They controlled this part of the world by controlling the sea.  The Turks with their masterful bureaucrats backed by cruel and efficient armies.  The Mongols with their highly disciplined calvary of squat horses.  The Arabs with their swords, caravans and the crescent moon of Islam.  And two dozen other forgotten empires. They all came to rule this part of the world.

And so on my way out of Baghdad on the roof of what serves as the passenger terminal for officers and US government employees in and out of Iraq I began composing this.

“I sold the Yanquis the Sky,  I sold the English the Sea.  I sold the Mongols the Steppes.  No too obscure.  People will think ‘steps’ instead of ‘Steppes’,  I sold the  Ottomans… no people will think furniture,  I sold the Mamluks the…  ?  Who?  I sold the Romans the chariot? sounds sort of pathetic.  I sold the Arabs the Moon.”

I also thought of my father as I was writing this.  I couldn’t help because he actually died this day (January 26th).  I wondered if all those years of flying around in planes had made him a philosopher.  He never really talked about much in a geopolitical context.  Although I do remember a vague memory of him pointing out the faint  arrow straight outline of the roman road out of Londinium towards Dover.  And of course scrambling around on Moorish and  Roman ruins when we lived in spain.  He clearly had some sense of the bigger  historical picture.   I also document this in the Cracker song Riverside.  My father metaphorically stands on the bank of the river Styx which in greek mythology separates the land of the living from the land of the dead.

I can’t see you standing by that riverside.

I can’t see you standing by that riverside.

See you on roman roads, aqueducts and matadors

See you on Moorish walls, Alhambra,  Seville


05 Riverside

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*, **,  ***   I’m only joking.  It’s just my sense of humor y’all. And my father would approve of this kind of joking.  And *** was actually borrowed from ashley knotts.

I WAS THE MAN THAT SOLD THE ARABS THE MOON
And I was the man who sold the arabs the moon
The emirate princes their hands manicured
Their servants with luggage they followed behind
The african concubines regal and tall
And I was the man
who sold the arabs the moon
they festooned their flags with
crescent moons
And i was the man who sold the English the sea
They wanted the afternoon breezes it bore
The sweet smell of spices from over the sea
The afternoon showers it brought during tea
And i was the man
who sold the english the sea
i cowered before
grey battleship guns
And I was the man
who sold the yankees the sky
the black of the night
and the blue of the day
the endless horizon
of hope and desire
I was the man who sold the yankees the sky
the english the sea
the arabs the moon

# 68 The Long Plastic Hallway-Playing on a Flying Saucer with The Talking Heads.

Posted in Box O Laffs, Camper Van Beethoven with tags , , on January 10, 2011 by davidclowery

 


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12 The Long Plastic Hallway

“The music business is cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway, where thieves and pimps run free, where good men die like dogs.  And then there is a negative side.”-attributed to Hunter S. Thompson

There is actually a debate as to whether Hunter S. Thompson said this or not.  I suppose because there are variants that are similar attributed to other people.  Really? It sounds so much like the guy it has to be Hunter S. Thompson.

Part of this post is a story you may have heard.  I like to tell part of this story at shows. usually as an introduction to the song The Long Plastic Hallway.  But it definitely needs to be written down for posterity. So here goes.  It also allows me to get into the history of Box O’ Laffs one of the bands that preceded Camper Van Beethoven. Like the Estonian Gauchos and Sitting Duck there are a number of Box O’ Laffs songs that ended up being Camper Van Beethoven songs as well.  Most notably Ice Cream Everyday and Flowers. So Box O’ Laffs’ story is integral to the history of CVB.

14 Ice Cream Everyday

11 Flowers

Box O’ Laffs consisted of Eric Curkendall on vocals, Chris Hart on Guitar, sometimes Chris Molla on guitar, keyboards and drums, and then a host of different drummers, Anthony Guess, Chris Pedersen and Richie West.  All of which played with Camper Van Beethoven at some point.  I’m also quite sure i’m forgetting a drummer or two. But you’ll forgive me if I just move along with the story?

And yes that is how we spelled it: Box O’ Laffs.  Sometimes we wrote it this way Box O’ Laffs™ as the name was supposed to evoke a toy or board game.  Often the venues would list our name wrong in ads or on flyers.  They’d spell it “Box of Laughs”.  This drove us crazy.

So Box O’ Laffs™ was formed in 1981 when I met Chris Hart and Eric Curkendall at College 5 at UCSC.  I was still living on campus and so was Eric.  We constantly struggled to find places to practice.  We rarely managed, so much of our rehearsing was done live at shows.  There was a neat little formula.  Chris and I would make up a couple of very simple repetitive grooves.  Then we’d alternate between the two while Eric improvised lyrics over the top.  Each “song” had a title and generally Eric sang about pretty much the same thing  but each performance was always different. Sometimes radically different.

It was very easy to add a new song to the repertoire.  As long as me and chris alternated correctly between the two or three grooves that made up a song,  usually the drummer could follow along.  And Eric? well he was good at just making shit up on the spot.  After a while these improvisations became more and more settled. Eventually they would come to resemble normal songs.

Mostly the college kids we were playing for didn’t notice this process.  The grooves we played were kind of bouncy and were easy to dance to.  As long as we didn’t stop they danced.  No one seemed to notice that Eric would be singing lines from Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, Dr Seuss stories or even laconically announcing a LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics game like a stoned Chick Hearn.  This is how we worked out the songs.  Sounds crazy i know but the over all effect was  we came off like a slightly funky californian version of The Fall.

But a little bouncier.  So a lot of people compared us to The Talking Heads.

So what does this have to do with the Hunter S. Thompson quote?

In the summer of 1983 Chris Hart our guitarist was living in LA.  He was working for Eric Curkendall’s father in Pasadena.  At the very end of the summer he started to call me repeatedly insisting that he had managed to get us a gig supporting The Talking Heads in Los Angeles.

Chris was never the most reliable person.  Although he was the most normal or straight laced looking member of the band there was something not quite right about him.  Aside from being a poor judge of character he would constantly end up in some fucked up situation. He of course would profess that he was a completely innocent bystander and had no idea how these bad things kept happening to him.  The truth was we had all watched him put himself in dangerous situations over and over again. It was strange to us.  Cause otherwise he was (and probably is still) an intelligent and thoughtful person

Still we had our guard down when Chris phoned us and said he’d got us a gig with the Talking Heads.  We were skeptical but we wanted to believe.  We called people we knew in LA for some sort of independent confirmation.  Anthony even called KROQ to see if any of the DJs had heard anything about us opening for the Talking Heads. We know from our friends in LA that we weren’t in any advertising.  It was 1983 and it wasn’t like  we could look on the Goldenvoice website to confirm we were playing. It seemed improbable to us… still we wanted to believe.  So after a little badgering from Chris we decided to make the 400 mile drive Santa Cruz to LA to play the gig.

Anthony Guess was at that time the drummer for Box O Laffs.  Anthony and I got Joe Sloan to drive his pickup truck to LA.  Anthony me and the gear road in the open back of the truck 400 miles to the leafy Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena.  It was nearly midnight when we made it to Eric Curkendall’s parents house. Early september.  We waited out in the yard smoking cigarettes and enjoying the mild night. we waited for quite a while for Chris Hart and The Talking Heads’ “percussionist”.  They didn’t show.

Joe Sloan started to get really impatient and agitated.  Finally someone figured out where this “percussion” player lived.  We drove over to the apartment which was in a much sketchier area of Pasadena or perhaps even Alta Dena.  There we found Chris Hart with a person who in retrospect was very clearly a crack head.  Chris seemed pretty disoriented and stoned himself.  Did I say apartment?  It was really more of a crack house.  An upscale crack house, but nonetheless a crack house.

Immediately our spirits fell.  Still there is nothing like wanting to believe that something really implausible is true.  We began to pepper the “percussionist” with questions.

“What time do we load-in?”

“How much do we get paid?”

“How long do we get to play?”

“Why aren’t we in any of the advertisements?”

The “percussionist” began to get more and more agitated.  Finally he’d had enough of us and our ridiculous questions.

“Man I’m not talking about that gig.  That gig is the fake gig.  I’m talking about the real gig.  And the real gig is after that gig.  The real gig is on a flying saucer above Los Angeles”.

Joe Sloan is a big man.  And at first I thought he was gonna attack the “percussionist”. Instead he turned his attention to Chris Hart.  I really thought he was gonna beat the crap out of Chris.  He didn’t.  But he didn’t do anything to rid Chris Hart of the notion either.  That is the rest of the night Chris kept a wary eye on Joe,  certain that the ass-whipping was about to come at any time.

Now to quote the lyrics from the third verse:

playing on a flying saucer

box o laffs was supporting talking heads

everyone was high and having a real good time

they was having a real good time.



The story doesn’t end there.  In the summer of 2000 I went to the wedding of Virgin CFO Ken Pedersen.  There were several other celebrity guests at the wedding and I was delighted to find out that I was sitting at the table with David Byrne.  Wow.  This is so cool.  David Byrne, ever gracious, stood and introduced himself to me as I approached the table.  We exchanged greetings and then I said:

“We actually played a gig together a long time ago”

“Really?!”

“Yes, it was on a flying saucer above Los Angeles”.

At this point David Byrne backs away almost imperceptibly.

“It’s a long story,  you don’t remember because they erased your memory of the event”

Now he perceptibly takes a step back from me.  Of course I then realize that i may have genuinely freaked him out.

“I’m joking… well sort of…”

It all ended up okay and I did manage to explain the whole story to David Byrne and he seemed to think the whole thing was amusing.  But at the same time I could tell he was thinking what I sometimes think:

“some of our fans are out of their minds.”

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The Long Plastic Hallway


CHORUS:
La la la la la la
La la la la
La la la la
La la la la

REPEAT CHORUS

Cigarettes and carrot juice
Marijuana and lots of booze
I threw the flower of youth into that stew

The serpent’s tongues were red and pointy
But they were wearing very cool shoes
Who wouldn’t wanna sell their soul?

REPEAT CHORUS x4

We waited in line for hours
VIP passes bouquets of flowers
To see the brand new siren sing her song

The virgins then were thrown into volcanoes
A beating heart, it was held aloft
And no expense was spared

REPEAT CHORUS x4

Quezacotl and Busby Berkeley
Hanging out in Pasadena
Rodney on the ROQ, and David Byrne

Playing on a flying saucer
Box o’Laffs were supporting Talking Heads
Everyone was high, everyone was having a good time (a good time, they were having a good time)

REPEAT CHORUS x4

 

 

 

#67-Turquoise Jewelry- Grace Slick Where Art Thou?

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags on January 7, 2011 by davidclowery

 

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07 Turquoise Jewelry

come down from that condominium treehouse

stop driving around in that station wagon with the wood on the side

take off that jumpsuit you look like grace slick

staying up all night drinking that 7-11 coffee

Funny story about this song.  It was all pretty much based on the alleged sighting of Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) at a 7/11 in the north bay of SF.  Sausalito?  Mill Valley?  I’m not really clear.  I’m not even sure who told me about it.  Paul MacKinney (my old college roomate) Jackson Haring (our former manager)  one of the guys in Spot 1019?  Anyway the alleged sighting was approximately this:  Someone had seen Grace Slick buying coffee at a 7/11 or other convenience store.  She was wearing some sort of fashion forward pantsuit or designer coveralls, and a fair amount of jewelry.  I’m pretty sure that the turquoise jewelry part was my embellishment of the story. More on that in a minute. The part of the story that makes me question the veracity of the story is that she left in a Buick roadmaster station wagon. No self respecting Northern Californian hippy would drive a Buick station wagon.   Any former hippy who needed a station wagon would naturally choose a Volvo station wagon.  I’m pretty sure it’s in the handbook.

Either that or it wasn’t Grace Slick.

Or the entire story was made up by one of my friends.

But what this song clearly illustrates is Camper Van Beethoven’s delight in picking apart the bones of the dead or dying Norther California hippy scene while simultaneously praising and emulating hippy culture in general.  For at the same time the songs distinctly owes it’s narrative voice to Don Van Vliet.  That’s Captain Beefheart to you civilians.

Check the distorted harmonica,  disjointed and seemingly random horn parts, the hoo hoo hoo vocalizations  and most tellingly the barked non-sequiturs.

I know Captain Beefheart was from Southern California. So was Zappa.  See even the guys from Northern California in the band seemed to prefer these hippies, these musical anarchists to their Northern Californian cousins.

We were mocking the flower power, peace and love part of hippiedom while simultaneously trying to emulate and update the bomb-throwing part of the movement.  Using Captain Beefheart’s voice to comment on Grace Slick was just one way of doing it.  We didn’t really dislike Grace Slick or Jefferson Airplane. They just happened to be innocent bystanders.  Collateral damage if you will…

(and too be fair Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane were a lot more edgy and punk than we gave them credit  for).

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But as previously noted Camper Van Beethoven was also defining itself against the punk and post-punk scenes.  To a lesser extent the new “college rock” movement.  Back in 1986-87 we actually wore a lot of turquoise jewelry.  It was one of our ways of rebelling against the punk and college rock movement.  It worked too. If you wore a fake indian pancho, giant turquoise belt buckle,  laminated scorpion bolo tie and turquoise beaded mocassins into Hollywood’s Club Lingerie in 1987  people loked at you like you were crazy.

We didn’t wear the good stuff.  Just the knock-off fake stuff you’d buy at a truckstop or “indian” trading post along I-40 somewhere in the southwest.  We also spent a lot of time in thrift stores in this part of the world.  Tucson and Albuquerque still have some of the best thrift stores around.  I mean they were (and probably still are) hip deep in fake indian panchos and bolo ties with laminated scorpions and of course turquoise jewelry.  When we’d return to Santa Cruz from one of our periodic tours, it was usually via the 40.  Inevitably we’d come home looking like a deleted scene from movie Billy Jack.

Right on.

<<<<<Free Download of new song from my upcoming solo album The Palace Guards. In Stores Feb 1st.  Click Here.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
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Turquoise Jewelry.

Come down from your tree house condominium
And start driving around that station wagon with the wood on the side

Take off that jumpsuit, you look like Grace Slick
Stayin’ up all night an’ drinkin’ that 7-11 coffee

And take off your turquoise jewellery

Shake your medicine rattle

And fill a sock with an herb
Put on your fringe skirt

Come sit down next to your man, he’s hankering for some company
Come sit down next to your man and let him cough in your ear

‘Cuz you bring me sticks and stones
You bring me everything

Take off your turquoise jewelry
Shake your medicine rattle

‘Cuz you bring me sticks and stones
You bring me everything

#66 -Raise ‘Em Up On Honey. Notes on the etymology of the word cracker

Posted in Cracker, David Lowery Solo, Sparklehorse with tags , on January 5, 2011 by davidclowery

 

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The word Cracker has an interesting history one that I felt worthy of further elaboration. It’s origination is widely disputed. Was it from the  ‘crack’ of the whip of the white vaqueros that herded  Spanish cattle in Georgia and Florida? Was it because they were such  poor people they cracked and ate their seed corn?

The most interesting etymology of the word purports to illustrate a history of  friction between the dominant English culture and Celtic subculture  of the British Empire including North America.  This is not my theory.  It has been thoroughly researched and written about by several historians. Much is in dispute but clearly  the word Cracker is intimately associated with Celtic culture in particular the Scots-Irish of the American frontier.  The most notable author to propose this is Grady McWhiney.  In his book Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways of the Old South McWhiney  argues that Cracker is synonymous with being of Celtic origin.  Here is a brief summary of historical uses of the word.

Cracker as in a braggart or sharp and entertaining speaker.  In Shakespeare’s King John

“What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

Craic in middle english also was  used to mean “to enter into” conversation.  Especially loud boisterous conversation.  Hence  to “crack” a joke.

McWhiney points out that this is exactly the use and spelling of the Gaelic word craic.  This and other uses of the word  from this  period generally reference the Scottish and other Celts of the British Isles.  These included not just the well know Irish, Scottish and Welsh but also lesser known Celtic groups like the Cornish,  The Manx and the Hebrideans.  One must remember that at this time the British Isles had yet to be fully conquered  much less  anglicized.  Later many of these troublesome un-anglicized groups were shipped overseas to the North American colonies.  The southern American colonies and maritime Canada were prime destinations. Many of these wild celts arrived in the new world fully un-anglicized. Speaking their native tongue and chafing under the English ways.

Certainly by the time these Celts hit the new world at least some of them were being called “Crackers”

From Wikipedia:

As early as the 1760s, this term was in use by the English in the British North American Colonies to refer to Scots-Irish settlers in the south. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth reads:

“I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”


First a little curious fact about the state of Florida.  It was a spanish colony from 1513-1763.  It then became an English colony for a brief 20 years.  In 1783 it was handed back to Spain after the American revolution.  But during those 20 years,  many colonists from Georgia and colonies to the north were encouraged to settle in Florida. When the spanish regained control they continued to encourage American settlers to move there by offering land grants.  About 20 thousand american immigrants and 40 thousand spanish colonists lived in florida at the time it was ceded  to the United States in 1819.

The white cowboys who herded cattle in Spanish Florida alongside the Spanish Vaqueros were purportedly called “Quáqueros.” A corruption of the spanish word for Quaker which was also generic insult for any protestant.  Others say they were  given the name “Crackers” by other white Floridians and Georgians because of the crack of their spanish whips.

McWhiney and others argue since these were mostly  freed Scots-Irish indentured servants  they were already called Crackers. Further the pan-celtic preference (at that time)  for ranging cattle on common land ( in this case sparsely populated Spanish Florida)  as opposed to the english preference for penned sheep and hogs, lends some credibility to the account. Cattle herding was the preferred livelihood of many of these immigrants.

As a footnote the battle between the advocates of private land for grazing and the advocates of a common free range often played out violently through American history.  It ended in a stalemate. East of The Rockies most grazing activities happens on private land.  In the West,  The Federal Government owns much grazing land through the BLM or Bureau of Land Management. Historically this agency then doled out grazing rights.

I have often wondered if the Scots-Irish had a such a deep seated ideological preference for ranging and common grazing land as McWhiney proposes, what did  those in Texas  think  as the US army methodically killed and subdued their Native American analogues?  By this I mean the Comanches and other  buffalo herding plains Indians. For ultimately the Indian Wars were a process of converting the Indian common lands to private land. Yes they may have been happy to see the murderous  cattle rustling Comanche vanquished and confined to reservations. But were they not saddened by the following influx of settlers?  For it were these settlers that destroyed the greatest commons the world ever knew.  It was settlers from the east that  divided the great sea of grass into a patchwork of poor farms and meager homesteads.  Did the Texan Scots-Irish descendants secretly prefer the commons loving Comanches to their new neighbors?

Allow me to divagate for a moment so  that I can make perhaps my most glancing reference yet to a song from our catalogue.   Raise ‘Em Up on Honey.   This is the opening track from my Solo Album The Palace Guards (Feb 1st 2011). In this song the protagonist proposes a very Cracker-like return to the common. Although for the purposes of marijuana cultivation.

Go up on the mountain build a little shack just over the line

well BLM they won’t complain cause no one surveyed this in a while

home school the children give them weapons training

just in case the DEA comes snooping round again

go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue.

With my red beard, cowboy hat and preference for the wild frontier I could easily pass for one of these Scots-Irish “lawless rascals” so detested by the English overlords.  And why not?  My  murky family history would support this.  Lowery is a common enough name not only in Celtic parts of the British Isles but very common through the main Cracker heartland.  Indeed my great grandfather came from “somewhere in Georgia” and settled deep in the Piney Woods of Southwestern Arkansas.  The Piney Woods are a distinct ecoregion covering 54,000 square miles of eastern Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, southern Arkansas and extreme southeastern Oklahoma.  But it must also be somehow culturally tied to the Georgia and Florida Cracker heartland.  And for a simple reason.  Spanish Cattle.

 

Those Crackers herding cattle in Spanish Florida were herding a type of cattle that is still referred to today as “Cracker Cattle“. This is somewhat of a misnomer as this breed of cattle is a Spanish breed that the Conquistadors brought to Florida.  Cracker Cattle had a very close cousin further west known as Pineywoods Cattle.  These also were remnants of the Spanish herds.  Whether they were brought west by Florida Crackers or whether Florida Crackers followed them to the piney woods is immaterial.  There is somehow a connection.  Indeed some historical sources equate the term “pinelander” and “cracker”.  But This Is Pinelander Soul doesn’t have the same ring.

Finally the Piney woods immediately reminds me of another Pejorative.  Peckerwood.  My grandfather used to endearingly refer to me as his little Peckerwood.  Years later I looked it up and was shocked to find it was probably the only known slur for red haired white people.

In 1999 I returned to the Piney Woods for my grandmothers funeral.  There was a sea of people at the small church graveyard.  More than 100 people.  Most of these were my blood kin.  The majority direct descendants of my grandmother.  There were 90 year olds and nursing great-great grandchildren.  It was impressive and beautiful spring day. The children were beginning to run in a pack.  My wife at the time, Mary was pregnant with our first child.  She looked out at the crowd and gestured with her head  ” I want one of those”.  I looked at where she gestured but i didn’t understand.  “One of those”  she pointed at a flaming redhead of a boy that bounded past us barefoot and freckled.  Two more followed.  I looked across the churchyard and realized that my clan was full of these redheads.  I laughed.  “Careful what you wish for”.

My grandmother was of course famous for saying of her red-haired progeny.  “red-hair is how god marks the crazy ones”.

We must have seemed exotic to Mary.  Her family also of Celtic origin are textbook Black Irish. The Black Irish largely from counties in the west of Ireland, are not “Black”. They almost look spanish with their black curly hair and dark brown freckles.  And as it turns out for good reason.  The Black Irish do appear to be from the Iberian peninsula as they share common genetic markers with the Galicians, Basque and Portuguese.  I reference Mary, her sisters and their love of broken, old and decrepit houses in this track I recorded with Mark Linkous.

16 Eyes Of Mary

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Raise Em Up On Honey

going up the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
take along my sweetheart gonna raise ourselves up a brood
raise em up on honey from bees and buckwheat wine
if we can go do this make our clothes from hemp and twine
go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
go up on the mountain build a little shack just over the line
will BLM* they won’t complain cause no one surveyed this in a while
home school the children give them weapons training
just in case the DEA comes snooping ’round again
go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
every fortnight or so the bible thumpers they come around
they’re worried ’bout the eternal souls of our daughters and our sons
they’ll be fine they’ll move into the city start black metal bands
give up and move back up the mountain again
raise their little broods on mountain waters from glaciers blue
Eyes of Mary
You were born
With it inside
A secret twin in your wounded side
Bits of hair
Teeth and String
And Yellow flowersOpen Up
Let it all in
Let the strange parade begin
A piece of pie
A piece of cake
For Every sister

Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now

A baby born
It’s made of leaves
And Carried round the maypole tree
By Irish Girls
With jet black hair
And dark brown freckles

Let me bring
You bits of string
Tired and worn and sagging things
Under the weight
Of old crows feet
And the seasons

Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the Brides of Jesus
Carry you away now
Let the Brides of Jesus
Carry you away now.
Away now
Away

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