If you’re not in the reading mood, here’s the CliffsNotes:
This Friday, February 4th at the American Legion Hall in Tallahassee
Bob Nite: Tallahassee artists pay tribute to Bob Dylan
Featuring: Grant Peeples, Sarah Mac Band, Pat Puckett, Bedhead Betty, Sir Charles Atkins, and Free Hugs (as in… the band, not actual embraces)
Doors open at 7:15PM, Music begins at 8PM
And now my dissertation…..
Insomnia is not a welcome or invited friend, but still one that visits quite frequently. Since I don’t have television in an effort to live simply, there’s not a whole lot else for me to do at 2AM but write songs and write stories. The songwriting is out because singing and playing out of tune guitar at this hour are generally frowned upon in house sharing circles. So, instead I thought that I’d satisfy my nostalgia by revisiting my sweet Mac family memories. You’re invited to journey with me. After all, Charlie, Claire and I say that after a while, we start to see you guys enough that you do sort of feel like family… now you can know where you come from.
Our story begins long ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before cell phones and hybrid cars, when the world was still in black and white, in the shadow of Lookout Mountain there stood a little general store called Mac’s Groceries. This little store belonged to the original Mister Elwood who inherited it from his father. In the evenings after a hard day’s work, he retired to the apartment above the store and sat down in his favorite rocking chair to play banjo. At some point in time, he took a break from banjo playing to have a son, Mister Elwood (Jr.).
Mister Elwood (Jr.) had many adventures. He worked at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta and was Al Capone’s guard during his tenure there (that’s before Capone went to Alcatraz). He went to war against the Germans and was shot down (I think that’s true, but there’s a chance that I made that memory up). He finally made it home to Tennessee where he met a foxy, leggy redhead who was already engaged to be married to someone else. Macs have gumption, though. Since he fancied her, he asked her to break off her engagement and take a chance on him. She did and they got married. Before too long, came another Mister Elwood, our Mister Elwood [the third (III)]. I know it’s hard to imagine it folks, but yes… our Mister Elwood (III) was at one time a teensy baby and not yet six feet, six inches tall (but that was only until he was four and finally had his growth spurt).
My memories of Mister Elwood (Jr.) are few and far between because he died a few weeks after I turned six years old. Even so, I remember adoring him. By the time Baby Bear and I came along, he’d already had a couple of strokes, so his mobility was limited and he had these weird metal braces on his legs. He mostly just sat in his chair, read the paper, and watched wrestling and that country music show where the old people line dance wearing cheesy cowboy outfits. Baby Bear and I had a game where we would run by his chair as fast as we could, far enough away to make him exert effort to reach us, but close enough that he could. If he was fast, he caught us and smothered us in tickles and kisses. If not, he still had another chance as we had to pass by him to get back out the door. One day, I when I was sharing that memory with our older sister, who is ten years my senior, she laughed and said that she played the same game with him when she was little.
Although Baby Bear was less apt to leave home, I had that Mac gumption when I was little and even at 3, I would love to leave my folks and spend the night with Mister Elwood (Jr.) and Grandma Beulah (who even now at 89 remains both foxy and redheaded… well, really, it’s mixed with gray, but I’m hoping that I inherited her hair genetics because she didn’t actually start graying until the last few years). Mister Elwood (Jr.) would retire early and Grandma Beulah and I would watch The Golden Girls and The Dolly Parton Show and eat homemade banana splits with extra maraschino cherries. Because we stayed up so late having girl time, I always slept in. I never knew that Mister Elwood (Jr.) got up early and took his nasty, smelly, grunting, slobbery English Bulldog, Duchess, out on a walk before the sun came up every morning.
My most precious memory of my Granddaddy is catching him one morning as he was leaving. He knew that he was busted, so he told me that as long as I didn’t tell Grandma, I could come too. I felt so proud and special to be his co-conspirator, getting to tag along in the dark, still wearing my pajamas, holding his hand as he creaked in his leg braces down the sidewalk to Optimist Park and then back home. When we got back, we fed Duchess Oreo cookies and I got to have one too! But only one, because we didn’t want to spoil my breakfast.
When Mister Elwood (Jr.) died, I don’t think that I quite understood what it meant. Mama Bear saved the card that I made and put in his casket that said, “Sorry you died.” I found it a few years ago when I was looking through some of her files trying to figure out where I’d put my college diplomas. All of the Tennessee family came down for the funeral and it was the first time that I met some of my cousins. Then we all rode together in a limousine to the cemetery. We were all surprised and touched when “Grandpa,” Mama Bear’s daddy, drove down from Georgia to be a pallbearer because they had been a part of the same old man’s club—the Masons or the Shriners (I don’t remember which one).
When Mister Elwood (Jr.) died, our Mister Elwood (III) suddenly found himself taking care of things that he probably never thought through before that moment. He had to find a home for Duchess (which he did… and was sure to tell them about the Oreos). Since Grandma only now needed one, he had to get rid of Granddaddy’s car. In spite of its leather seats and cool CB radio that was shaped like a phone, nobody wanted to buy an old Ford Thunderbird that probably got 3 miles to the gallon and smelled like bulldog. So Mister Elwood (III) seized the opportunity and upgraded from Mama Bear’s hippy-dippy, baby blue Volkswagen Beetle to a big new car that could accommodate his growing family.
That old Thunderbird served us well on many a fuel guzzling trips back to Tennessee. Mister Elwood (III) wisely thought ahead for these trips. He ripped out the 8-Track player and installed a cassette player so that we could alternate Trio (not the German group, but one consisting of Emmy Lou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt) and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tapes over and over again all the way to the mountains. Then at night, wherever we were staying, he’d pull out his guitar and we’d all sing those same songs (over and over again) as he played. Mama Bear took the high harmonies and Baby Bear and I chimed in when we weren’t too distracted by our books, Cabbage Patch Dolls, and arts ‘n crafts. Even twenty-plus year later, I can still sing every word to every song on the Déjà vu album.
It’s funny how one little thing can send your mind racing down those memory lanes. This whole story was brought on a while back when I was trying to convince Mister Elwood to buy tickets for us to all go and see Bill Cosby when he comes to Tallahassee next week. I distinctly remember sitting around in our living room and listening to Bill Cosby comedy records together. I told him, “Daddy, I think that I’m going to cry when I see him in real life because I have such vivid memories of him being a part of my childhood.” Then I started to think on all of the people who I have vivid childhood memories of, people that I want to see in real life before they’re too old and die and I don’t have a chance anymore. I’ve already seen Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton- both more than once. I’ve already seen Willie Nelson. I’ve already seen James Taylor. I’ve already seen the Eagles.
I’ve already seen Neil Young, but I didn’t really appreciate it the way that I should’ve. Mister Elwood took me to that concert because I was still too young to drive, or maybe just to scared to drive on the interstate, because the concert was out of town. When Neil Young came on stage, I couldn’t appreciate it because the people next to us were smoking pot and I was mortified, “THOSE GUYS ARE GOING TO GET IN TROUBLE!! DON’T THEY KNOW THAT THEY’RE SMOKING POT NEXT TO MY FATHER!?!?!”
That day, I don’t think I understood. I think that I thought that Mister Elwood was crying because the pot smoke was stinging his eyes. But now that I’m older and I have a few more of those experiences under my belt, I realized that there is a magic that comes with experiencing the soundtrack of your life with all five senses, in 3-D and real time.
And I feel like I’ve been here before, and I feel like I’ve been here before.
You’re sharing a moment with that artist. They may not even know you’re alive, but they wrote that very song for your special moment and as they sing, they’re bringing those moments back to life: your special moments of growing up, special moments with your family, special moments of realizing who you are, special moments of falling in love, special moments when you can say, “This is right and I’m proud to be a part of this world.”
I think that if people ever say that about my music, I will have accomplished everything that I was put on this earth for.
There are a few others: Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Cars, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan. Paul Simon will actually be in Mobile, Alabama this spring. I’m seriously considering driving over for that one. Bob Dylan was in Tallahassee not too long ago. I had a show the same night—that’s one of the drawbacks of being a musician, often times you miss some of the other musicians that you’d like to experience.
My dear friend Amber went to see Bob Dylan about 10 years ago with her uber-conservative, 60-something parents. She said, “I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself when my mom got carried away in the moment and was pumping her fist and singing out loud with him, ‘Everybody must get stoned!’” I had to break it to her softly, “Amber, I know that your parents are uber-conservative now, but they are old enough to be for-real hippies, and they lived in California… your mom probably got stoned with that song as the soundtrack.”
…Another person who understood the sanctity of those moments when you can relive your sweet, wonderful memories, in real life and with all five senses.
Although it’s not quite the real deal, you have an opportunity to experience a little piece of seeing the soundtrack of your life play out in 3-D and real time. On Friday night, in Tallahassee several local artists will be gathering together to celebrate one of the authors of our life soundtracks. The 6th iteration of Bob Night comes to the American Legion Hall at 8:00PM and we are please to be invited to take part. A great night of great acts singing great songs: Grant Peeples, Sarah Mac Band, Pat Puckett, BedHead Betty, Sir Charlies Atkins and Free Hugs (again, this is a band, not an actual embrace).
What: Bob Nite
Where: American Legion Hall
When: Friday, February 4th, 2011.
Doors open at 7:15PM, music begins at 8PM.
See y’all there.
And now I’m going to try to go to bed again. I’m sure that I’ll have sweet dreams now that I’ve walked back through all of those wonderful, warm moments with the people that I love.
We have all been here before, we have all been here before.