On August 11, I picked up my father from the Denver airport. By then my apartment was 90% packed. Since he’d had a long flight and I had additional packing to do, I introduced him to my Roku box and my Netflix subscription. “See, they even have the old Flatt and Scruggs variety hour.”
He turned off the TV past 11:30 that night — 1:30 in the morning, his time.
The morning of Saturday, August 13, I took that span of time between what used to be my apartment and the truck rental place up at 48th and Jackson to listen to the song I’d used to keep me sane my last few months of work: “This Year.” It helped — or at least it made it easier to stop crying before anybody saw me.
We left Denver pretty shortly thereafter.
Eastbound I-70 and southbound I-35 across the plains. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings Machine. Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Andrew Bird. (“This one sounds different than his others,” my father said, unprompted by me, about Armchair Apocrypha. “Why is that?”) Ralph Stanley. Konono N° 1. The Mountain Goats.
I played “Quito” from We Shall All Be Healed a second time through and asked my father whether he thought John Darnielle would make a bluegrass singer.
We listened, and he said, “He might be all right, but he doesn’t have enough range to be really great at it.”
Sunday morning we listened to the Smithsonian Folkways Southern gospel compilation and decided to make a Sunday pilgrimage to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa — we’ve both seen the opening credits to the Wilco Ashes of American Flags movie, with the portraits of early country and Western swing artists on the walls. We know what Cain’s is. We poked around long enough to get a glimpse of the portraits, as well as Matisyahu’s tour bus pulling in for the show that night. Downtown Tulsa is eerily quiet on a Sunday morning. We had lunch a few blocks away, and kept driving.
Our next stop: Southaven, Mississippi, just across the state line from Memphis, where the concierge at the front desk asked us if we were there to keep vigil at Graceland for Elvis’s death week. We said we weren’t. Plenty of ladies in the hotel were, though.
The next morning we moved me into a house in Oxford, Mississippi. A week later, I started graduate school.
Lots of trips to see friends and family, now that I’m back on the righthand side of the Mississippi River. I went to a wedding in Baltimore; I figured out where to find Colorado beer in Atlanta and Birmingham (no beer above 6% ABV in Mississippi, and I love my stouts). I listened to the new Wilco album — and one afternoon, I put “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” on repeat for seven and a half hours, until I finished a book for class. I drove across the state to spend an afternoon in Clarksdale, home of the Delta Blues Museum and many, many musicians, and went across the river to Helena, Arkansas, birthplace of Levon Helm, just for the pleasure of seeing a big river. Drove on Highway 61 while I was at it — though I wasn’t listening to Dylan; I was listening to Bobby Charles, on the recommendation of a guy in my program.
A lot of reading, a lot of writing, a lot of adjusting to life in the South again. (It’s been an adjustment.) Last weekend I finished unpacking. Yesterday I got stuff up on my walls — the open liner notes to Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville are at eye level, just like they were in my apartment in Denver.
Tonight I joined a friend at the Blind Pig Pub, just off the square in Oxford, and drank a couple of Shiner Bocks and listened to Michael Hurtt and his Haunted Hearts. First live music I’ve seen in over two months. I liked them. You might, too.
So that’s how I spent my blogging vacation — moving, settling, resettling, and finally, a couple of months later, sticking my head out to see who’s there. Music around the edges, everywhere. I’m working on having more things to write about; as my time in school progresses, I’m hoping to find ways to share some of the things I’m learning. The goal is for music to get less peripheral as time goes by.
This last week it’s been all about early popular music in the United States, from nineteenth-century minstrel shows through the Jim Crow era. But more on that some other time. I’m back, at least a little bit, and glad to be here.