May 9, 2010

Nashville and Dead Weather, in more ways than one

Now that other things are out of my system, it's necessary to talk about another element that made The Dead Weather's live album preview performance so exceptional.  In the midst of figuring out how to get off from work and how to arrange the timing of my flights there and back, I was made aware of an additional potential complication--  the catastrophic flooding of Nashville and much of Tennessee.

  Photo borrowed from

The weather was absolutely gorgeous when I was in Nashville on Thursday of my road trip.  By Saturday night, when I was simultaneously in the Third Man Records Vault chat room and on Expedia, Nashvillians in the chat were telling me to think twice about coming.  The highways were being shut down, and there were already news reports of one or two people being swept away and killed in the flood waters.  

   Photo from a May 3rd blog post at Bear Creek Ledger.

It sounded scary as hell.  How on earth could it have happened so quickly?  There was talk that the band wouldn't be able to make it into town from Louisiana, but no official word from their website.  So I charged ahead and made my plans.  The show was two nights away, things had to get better by then, hadn't they?  

It's obvious by now that both the band and I, and over a hundred other fans, all made it.  Not everyone was so lucky-- One Vault member's wife was still stuck in Texas as of Monday, after American Airlines canceled all of their flights to Nashville on Saturday night.  But knowing what we'd all gone through to get there made the bonding easier.  While no one in attendance that I know of was severely affected, some of us had flown in not knowing what we'd be dealing with, and some had come despite having no power in their homes.  It created a shared experience.  

And, in the midst of all the excitement, my heart went out to The Dead Weather and the staff at Third Man Records.  Jack White and his people live in and around Nashville and there was no telling how they might have been impacted by the disaster.  They seemed to be thinking only of us fans and putting on an incredibly electric show for us.  Knowing this added an emotional impact to the performance that made it doubly special beyond it's exclusivity.  I read one message board comment the next day that mentioned how quickly Jack left after the show was over, as if implying that he should've stuck around to sign autographs or something.  And yet this is what was going on in the town where he apparently lives:

Franklin TN Flood 05-02-10 May 2010 from Jonathan Melton on Vimeo.

Honestly, I'm surprised he didn't bolt directly from the stage to his car.

So forgive me for proselytizing, but this event has moved me.  Between the fact that it's Jack's chosen base of operations and that I was able to connect with a bunch of lovely people there, I've been touched by this part of the country and am eager to see it get through this.  

More importantly, Nashville is a beautiful city that figures prominently in Americana through both its history and music.  Much like New Orleans, it's been through hell and deserves our support.  The Grand Ole Opry House is closed indefinitely for repairs, though the heart of the Opry, the treasured section of stage salvaged from the previously destroyed historic Ryman Auditorium, was fortunately not severely damaged.  Many people lost everything they had because they never expected to need flood insurance.  And a friend in the Vault chat room told me last night of how his little girl's softball games are being re-scheduled to other fields because the local one is still under multiple feet of water.  Just because you don't see this in the news does not mean it's gone away.  The people of Nashville will be living with it for a long while, though their heart and determination are sure to get them through it.  That's something to respect.   

   Photo borrowed from

   My own photo, taken from the opposite side of the river from the one above, standing next to a restaurant that was trying to pump water back out into the street.  Seemed a losing battle, what with the river at the same level as that street. 

Ways to help, if you can and want to:

So Nashville is Flooded... How Can I Help? is probably the best source out there, with an extensive list of options for donations and volunteering.

Nashville Flood Tees, also available at Render Apparel    

-  And, if you're curious, here's what Jack's doing:  Jack White lending profit, hand to flood relief.

May 7, 2010

Carry this burden now until the moment of your last breath

Old Mary, full of grease,
Your heart stops within you.
Scary are the fruits of your tomb,
And harsh are the terms of your sentence.

Old Mary, sister of mine,
Mother to the world,
Carry this burden now until the moment of your last breath.
Now until the moment of your last breath...

So, I went back to Nashville. Got home from my Dead Weather DC-to-Memphis road trip Friday night.  As I was catching up on teh intarwebs, a fellow blogger/Jack-fan messaged me to say that she was one of 20 people who'd won entry into The Dead Weather's pre-release, invite-only, live performance of their new album, Sea of Cowards, that was to take place at Third Man Records on Monday night.  Did I fancy a trip back to Nashville as her plus-one?  Considering that I was still high from the road-trip, the Memphis show, and visiting Third Man on Thursday, I'll leave you to imagine my response. 

Yet I had to immediately catch my breath, as this would be more complex than just hopping a plane.  I was due back at work for a partial day on Saturday and full-time as of Monday.  How to get a few more days off for yet another show?  Here's the kicker--  

I'd already been planning to ask for another day.  On the way home from Tennessee, I'd received a call from my father informing me of a death in the family.  My parents and sister were going to drive up from Florida to Virginia for the funeral, could I get time off from work to join them?  Knowing my employer's dictum that family comes first, I knew that would be no problem.  Of course I would join them at the funeral on Tuesday.

And yet, now I had my own priority staring me in the face.  Musical obsessions are a difficult thing to explain to most people.  Star Wars fanatics or Trekkies might get it, as they'll move hell or high water to make it to their costumed conventions.  A more apt comparison, though, might be to the junkies who prowl the methadone clinic next door to Third Man Records.  Music has such an emotional impact that it can get into your system like a drug, and your chosen musician can become the supplier that you'd figuratively crawl through broken glass to get to in order to satisfy your cravings.  And Jack White's a pusher extraordinaire, coming up with increasingly enticing methods to deliver the raw purity of his musical vision.  

So what was I to do?  This was the sort of offer that just does not come along every day.  The answer jumped right into my already worn-out and over-stimulated brain-- Use the funeral as an excuse.  The logistics would be tricky, getting to Nashville for Monday night's show and then back home by Tuesday morning to meet my family.  What was trickier, though, was the conversation with my boss the next morning.

Was it worth trying to explain why I really needed both Monday and Tuesday off?  No.  Much simpler was to re-write the death to be that of a more immediate family member, say, an uncle instead of a great-uncle.  And if that uncle were being buried in Florida instead of Virginia, then that would necessitate two days off so that I could fly down to be with my family.  It would work.  But did I have the balls for the fabrication? 

I've done some bad things... They get easier to do

I've told some doozies in my time, back when I was a kid.  But I'd more or less developed some integrity by the time I became an adult, especially after discovering Buddhism.  Now, I've never actually referred to myself as "a Buddhist" because I haven't felt ready for a total commitment to the practice, but I have tried over the last few years to follow the Buddhist precepts as well as I can.  My moodiness and impatience have made this quite a challenge, but it's a way of life that makes so much sense to me that it's worth the struggle.  A lapse of the sort that I committed this past weekend is a violent one, in that I can see the two sides of my self at war--  The moral side that wants to live with right thought, right action, and right speech; and the other, perverse side that wants something badly and thinks of nothing but how to get it.  In this instance, craving won hands down and didn't give a flying fuck that morality was left bruised on the mat.

So I told my fabrication, and was given much sympathy along with a green light for the time off I'd requested. The butterflies that had taken over my stomach through last week's road trip began fluttering back, along with a few nasty, dark-winged moths and other creepy crawlies that were obviously not mere excitement.

When I got in the car the next day to head to the airport, The White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan was still in the cd player from the road trip.  The song that came up this time was not as nifty a coincidence as on the day I left for Memphis.  This time I was hit in the face with "Red Rain" and Jack's refrain of If there is a lie, then there is a liar too / And if there is a sin, then there is a sinner too... 

The irony doesn't end there.  Jack White's a born'n'bred Catholic who reportedly almost attended seminary school to become a priest, though he's apparently since developed a less rigid spirituality.  While it's possible that he'd likely have become a hard smoking, hard drinking priest of the Scotch/Irish variety, I get the impression that he's also intensely moral and committed to his own code of truth.  And I'd lied in order to fly to this man's base of operations and watch him make music.  

By the time I met my compatriots in Nashville the moths from my gut were practically crawling up my throat, but the junkie in me squashed them down.  It was too exciting to meet these people, and the event we'd come to attend was just too intensely amazing.  After the first song, Jack greeted the audience with a hearty "Welcome to my house".  I feel a pang thinking of it now--  Did I deserve to be there?

I'm a prick when I sin, and I know I can't win

There is no sin in Buddhism, only the discipline of the Eightfold Path and the much misunderstood concept of karma.  Most folks think of karma as the old cliché of "what comes around, goes around."  It's actually more direct than that.  Our intentions and resulting acts set chain reactions in motion and can reinforce habitual behaviors.  Sometimes shit just happens, but most often our choices create the atmosphere in which we live.  One of the best explanations of this comes from, of all places, The Huffington Post:

...the analogy of a game of billiards can be a useful way to describe the process of karma --- the table is set up, you hit the ball, it in turn hits other balls, moves the configuration on the table around, and then sets you up for your next shot. After that, maybe another person takes a turn and moves the balls around and then it's your turn again. Just as in the analogy of a billiard game, our thoughts and actions ripple outward, collide with others' thoughts and actions and generate consequences. These consequences create the setting in which we initiate our next set of thoughts and actions. 
When our choices are consistently unskillful due to self-centered motivations, we're just setting ourselves up for a fall.  Yet we can always make a more skillful karmic decision to act from positive intentions, and stop ourselves from making negative choices into habit.  I'd like to think that the drive to meet and connect with people I'd only previously known on-line was a benevolent enough intent to counteract the raging desire to just see Jack again.  But for all I know, that's just the junkie validating its behavior.

The question at this point is where things go from here.  I could confess to the boss, but I won't.  Craving gave me the guts for commission of this lapse, but I know that I'm not brave enough for the consequences of admission.  My best hope is that confession to the anonymous intarwebs will serve as a springboard out of the sea of cowards and back onto a truer path.

Edited 2/17/2011: I've just re-read this and decided that the final paragraph is bogus. I don't know what I was trying to say there. It reads more like a lame attempt at clever justification than a conclusion. And so it's struck out.

May 1, 2010

DC to Memphis Road Trip: Day 6, Hustling and cussing

Nashville seems to sit on the dividing line between the polite west and the obnoxious east.  I noticed a similar phenomenon on my cross-country road trip years ago-- West of this indistinct line, people automatically move into the right lane after they pass, or at least shift over immediately when a faster car comes up behind them.  It's just what people do, and you pick up on it quickly and join right on in.  Driving is a pleasure in that part of the U.S..  In the east, though, all bets are off and people park themselves in the left lane and cruise along oblivious to what's behind or around them.  So the last few hundred miles of this road trip were not only anti-climactic, they were annoying.  I ended up doing a whole lotta right-lane passing today, and even more of this...