field trip: back in time, the lost cause

I ran off into the wilds of Georgia yesterday with a friend — a day off. A day to revel in and catch up on our friendship, and a day to take off work, before the Labor Day weekend hit. My plan is to work through the weekend (with a few lovely family breaks) in order to finish a proposal I’ve started about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy… a story that’s confounding me when it comes to finding a way “in” to telling it.

So of course this lovely day-trip with my friend Marianne ended up delivering to me some research and insights, without my even looking for them. Isn’t that the way of asking for help with story? “You create your reality with your intentions.” I read that somewhere. And somehow, when we focus so intently on something, everything seems to be about that.

Or maybe, when you write out of your life, like I do, everything ends up being personal-narrative fodder for a story. Here is our trip to Molena, Georgia yesterday, and what we found on the way there and back. 

First up, we stepped back into the imaginary Aurora County, Halleluiah, Mississippi territory, Emma Lane Cake’s bakery, and Ruby Lavender’s hometown (actual photos of my Halleluiah, Mississippi here)…

Later I spied a Confederate Monument at the old courthouse in Newnan, Georgia:

…which is research for the book I want to write next, about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. I’ve been taking photos of Confederate memorials for years now, and maybe soon I’ll be ready to write. 

We drove past some of the filming locations for “The Walking Dead” as well, quite by accident, but it was fun to see:

… and it came to me as I drove home yesterday, that I write about the past, and those who came before us, in all their messy glory, whether it’s my childhood or the sixties or the Civil War… even yesterday’s “walking dead” locations held some story truth for me. 

In my writing life, certainly, I walk among ghosts, hoping to tell their stories; stories that are so intertwined with mine that I can hardly separate them out, in the geography of the heart.

xoxo Debbie
PeeEss: I’m doing two entries in a row for ANTHEM’s chapters next, days 15&16 — sorry to spam your inboxes. I’ll get back on track.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 14

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 14 (day 34):

STATESBORO BLUES
Written by Blind Willie McTell
Performed by the Allman Brother’s Band
Live at Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA 1969
Recorded at Fillmore East, NY, NY 1971
Drummers: Butch Trucks and Jai Johany Johanson (Jaimoe) 

“Hello, Hotlanta!” came a mumbly, slurry voice at the mic. “We’re the Allman Brothers Band, glad to be here.”
“We love you!” shouted a group of girls in front of the steps.
“We love you, too,” said the man at the microphone. He wore a T-shirt with a motorcycle on it and had long, golden-red hair. Molly walked closer. The way he held himself seemed shy. Closer, she told herself.
“We’ve been working up this one,” the man said, “a number by Blind Willie McTell called ‘Statesboro Blues.’ Anybody here from Statesboro, Georgia?”
“Yeah!”
The guitar player smiled as someone counted in the band and suddenly the red-haired man was all intensity, all business. Da-da-da-da-DUN snapped the organ-drums-bass together as one and they were off, the guitar squealing on and on, like a little girl with her pigtail relentlessly pulled. Then the organ player began to sing in a gravelly voice: “Wake up, Mama!”

One of the pleasures of writing, for me, is discovery. I had never been a fan of the Allman Brothers Band until I had to be. Does that make sense? If I’m going to write about someone, I need to learn to love them. I discovered the ABB through research and figured out how to appreciate them, thanks to those who loved them, then and now. 

Because the band played live in Piedmont Park in Atlanta in 1969, and because my characters are there, right next to Piedmont Park, within earshot, and because I’m painting a picture of the counter-culture in the late sixties… well, I couldn’t leave out the Allman Brothers Band.

So I turned to my friends who loved them, for help. And they delivered in spades. They taught me how to listen. So much of a conversation is learning how to listen.

Molly thinks the ABB plays noise — what’s the matter with melody, and harmony, and words I can understand? she asks. And that’s how I felt about their music, too, as a teenager, and how I felt about so much of Dylan and Hendrix and Janis Joplin and many others who make their appearance in ANTHEM.

But I learned to love them. I learned the stories behind who they were, and what formed them as musicians and human beings. The pleasure of researching the Allman Brothers Band — reading countless interviews, biographies, reviews, talking with friends and listening to the ABB music until I began to hear how it was structured with its unique blend of blues, rock, roots, soul, and jam — it actually changed me as a listener and music snob… like Molly.

Norman loves the ABB. Can’t get enough of them. I always say I’m part of every character I write, so part Molly, part Norman, part of everyone they meet on the road, and part of all those characters, real and imagined, become part of me, too. That’s how story works, and why it’s important to share our stories… and to listen. 

Chapter 14.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 13

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 13 (day 35):

SPINNING WHEEL

Written by David Clayton Thomas
Performed by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Recorded at Columbia Recording Studios, NY, NY 1968
Drummer: Bobby Colomby

MOLLY:

I don’t know what possessed me. I know I say that a lot now, at least to myself, but honestly, I don’t know what possessed me, running all over Atlanta streets with strangers, pretending to feel something — singing in public! — not me at all, not me to behave in such an unladylike fashion.

I’m a careful girl, but then I’m not, because if I were truly careful, I wouldn’t be here in Atlanta by myself, now would I? Yes, Norman’s here, but Norman doesn’t count. He wants to be here. Suddenly, the boy who didn’t want to leave home is having the time of his life. He’s probably forgotten all about Barry, but I haven’t. When I opened my suitcase this morning, out fluttered Barry’s letter: Order to Report.

Molly can’t make up her mind, which is where the lyrics to “Spinning Wheel” come in: “Did you find the directing sign on the straight-and-narrow highway?// Would you mind a reflecting sign?// Just let it shine within your mind, and show you the colors that are real…”

“Spinning Wheel” was such an exciting song, with its brass beginning, wailing trumpet solo (more jazz influence), its insistent beat, and that voice — David Clayton Thomas singing with that gravelly full-throated delivery. We’d heard nothing like it. 

This song was a precursor to the music of the Chicago Transit Authority which was close on its heels. You’ll find them in a future chapter. Meanwhile, give a listen to “Spinning Wheel” and you’ll have an audio peek into Molly’s mind at this point in the story.

You could easily find yourself down a David Clayton Thomas/BS&T wormhole, listening also to the frantic (written by Laura Nyro) “When I Die,” the jazzy/bluesy arrangement to “God Bless the Child,” and the straight-ahead love song “You Made Me So Very Happy.”

I loved their arrangements, their musicality (the piano, the organ, the brass, the cowbell, the recorder, hahaha — lots going on), and the fact that not every song they wrote was about love. We had a lot of love songs back then… don’t we always? But it was good to listen to some that were about… something else.

Chapter 13.