Bob Dylan at 75


Bob Dylan’s 75 years old. I wasn’t surprised to hear that. In fact, I kinda thought we’d been there for a decade. I don’t go fanboy very often, but shortly after Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers came out, my publicist emailed me to let me know that Dylan’d requested a copy, and I almost swallowed my cigarette. Made my day, of course, though I never heard anything about what he thought of it.

My favorite Dylan album is nobody else’s favorite Dylan: “Love and Theft”. The quotation marks are on the album title itself, because Dylan stole it from a book titled Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Which makes sense, given how the whole album’s always seemed to me like Dylan putting on his best sneer and taking aim at his own musical appropriation and civil rights legacy — by re-imagining Reconstruction through a series of appropriated songs. All of the meanings possible in this line from “Honest with Me,” for instance:

I’m not sorry for nothing I’ve done
I’m glad we fought, I only wish we’d won

Not that I could make my whole theory on that album make any sense to you in a blog post. Not unless I had you over and we were up all night listening to it. Because if nothing else, nobody covers their tracks like Dylan. Which, along with the pastiche and quotation — musical and lyrical riffs that both expand and explode the meaning of the songs, as well as the original sources — may be why this is my favorite album. That usage of quotation and the pastiche to a specific affect is a huge part of what I dig about authors like Melville and McCarthy, too. That kinda conversation is a huge part of what it is to make art, y’know?

Since nobody on YouTube’s bothered to post “Honest with Me,” here’s another of my favorites in the same vein:

Bob Dylan was asked a few years back how he felt about people giving him shit for the pastiche and quotation in his songs. This was his response:

Oh, yeah, in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me. I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell.

I always thought that was the perfect answer.

So, happy birthday, Bob. And along with everything else, I just wanted to say thank you for this, because every time I think about it, it cheers me up:

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From Legends of the Fall, which I’m rereading by reading to my children.

People finally don’t have much affection for questions, especially one so leprous as the apparent lack of a fair system of rewards and punishments on earth. The question is not less not concerned with the grander issues: say the Nez Perce children receiving the hail of cavalry fire in their sleeping tents. Nothing is quite so grotesque as the meeting of a child and a bullet. And what distances in comprehension: the press at the time insisted we had won. We would like to think that the whole starry universe would curdle at such a monstrosity: the conjunctions of Orion twisted askew, the arms of the Southern Cross drooping. Of course not: immutable is immutable and everyone in his own private manner dashes his brains against the long-suffering question that is so luminously obvious. Even gods aren’t exempt: note Jesus’s howl of despair as he stepped rather tentatively into eternity. And we can’t seem to go from large to small because everything is the same size. Everyone’s skin is so particular and we are so largely unimaginable to one another.

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My Favorite 11 Billy Joe Shaver Songs

This one’s for no good reason for this other than that I love Billy Joe Shaver, and I think he’s the greatest songwriter who ever lived. With apologies to Steve Earle, I’ll stand on Townes Van Zandt’s coffee table and say it, too. That was Johnny Cash’s opinion, and it’s mine too. So this post isn’t to say much, but that if you haven’t heard of Billy Joe Shaver, you need to fix that.

So here you go. None of these are in any order. I love them all equally.I f you asked me tomorrow it might be ten different songs. But right now, it’s these.

1. Texas Uphere Tennessee. I don’t think this is anybody’s favorite Billy Joe Shaver song except mine. The first time I heard it I was at Bouchercon in San Francisco and staying in a hostel above a strip club across from City Lights for 30 bucks a night. I couldn’t sleep because of the show below, so I’d listen to Billy Joe Shaver and roll cigarettes at the window.

2. Live Forever. This one’s a no brainer. This is everybody’s favorite Billy Joe Shaver song. It ought to be everybody’s favorite song, period. I’m posting this version because his son Eddie’s playing guitar on it. More on that in a minute.

3. Ragged Old Truck. This is one of my favorite songs in the world, hands down. And it’s got a line in it I tell my kids all the time, “I may be as ugly as an old mudrail fence, but I’m loaded with hillbilly charm.” (Half of that’s true.) In this video, he also introduces it with one of the greatest stories ever told.

4. Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me. This is a song I used to sing to my kids, nearly every night back when they let me do things like that.

5. We Are The Cowboys. I might as well post one with some of Shaver’s friends, who know just how good he is. “We’re picking our words so we don’t have to eat ’em.” This is the kind of outlaw inclusiveness that I wish there was more of.

6. The Earth Rolls On. In the late 90s Billy Joe Shaver’s three-time wife died from cancer, so he and his son, Eddy, one of the best guitar players who ever worked, got together to wrote an album about her, and about what family means. What they ended up with wasn’t pretty. It was just as messy as family is. The kicker is that just before the album was released, Eddy died of a heroine overdose. This is the title song from that album. Eddy’s on guitar.

7. Cowboy Who Started the Fight. I’m still not sure what this song’s about. And I really don’t care. There’s something about it that moves me every time I hear it.

8. Old Five and Dimers. This is my mantra song. Like if I had one thing that summed up what I hoped my career and life to be, it’d be this, right from the first line: “I spent a lifetime making up my mind could to be more than the measure of what I thought other people could see.” What more is there that? And we won’t even get into the good luck and fast bucks.

9. Checkers and Chess. That said, this is probably the song that’d best sum up my life and career.

10. The Git Go. You can have every political song you want, I’ll take this one.

11. Ride Me Down Easy.  This song cuts me down every time. It sounds like bragging, but it isn’t; it’s a lament. The audio’s not great, but this version is Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver singing it together, and that’s worth it.

And as a bonus, this Willie Nelson and Jamey Johnson singing about Billy Joe. The only time I saw Billy Joe he was playing for a crowd of about 30 in Cincinnati. And to me that was all that was all that was needed. He’s my hero.

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From Butcher’s Crossing. Which I was very bored with at first, it being another tale of a tenderfoot in the unfamiliar West, which I always find boring. But by the end, it sold me, completely.

“Young people,” McDonald said contemptuously. “You always think there’s something to find out.”

“Yes, sir,” Andrews said.

“Well, there’s nothing,” McDonald said. “You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies in school. You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you’re ready to die, it comes to you — that there’s nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain’t done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could of had the world, because you’re the only one that knows the secret; only then it’s too late. You’re too old.”

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New Pike


Today’s the release of the new Simon & Schuster Pocket Star e-book edition of Pike.  I love everything about this release. Pike was my first novel, one that I never actually meant to have published. It was supposed to be a practice book to help me learn the craft. It’s a personal book to me, written when my daughter was first born. She was colicky, and I thought up most of the book up while walking her all over Cincinnati, because walking was the only thing that would calm her down. I’d talk to her the whole time, often telling her the story that would become the book.

It’s a tough town, Cincinnati. We lived there not too long after a series of riots set off by the police killing of an unarmed black kid. Everybody was on edge. We didn’t live in any of the worst neighborhoods, but we lived one neighborhood over, and I always took a handgun in the diaper bag on our walks, because we walked everywhere. Ever since she was six years old, my daughter would ask me if she could read Pike, and I would say, no, not yet. But you’ve been everywhere in the book.

Anyways, the new version’s out today, and I’m thrilled with it. I love the cover, I love the fact that I got to fix some stuff that always bugged me, and I love the fact that it’s out there at a price point where pretty much anybody could afford to give it a shot.

If you’d like to, you can order it from Simon & Schuster, Books-A-Million, iBooksKindle, Nook, or Google Play.

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Guns, Books, Etc.


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Chris Ochs


This is another crowdfunding effort from somebody who can’t pay their medical bills. And I’m still donating where I can and passing them along. Because I’m still angry that folks have to turn to crowdfunding efforts to pay their medical bills.

This one is also for another person who means a lot in our household. Ochs is a real good friend of a real good friend of mine, and somebody I’ve been lucky enough to have a few conversations with, and always looked forward to seeing. He’s a working guy, who I’ve mostly known to take on hard, physical jobs without the means to put anything away in savings.

This is from the gofundme page:

As many of you know, about a week ago Chris Ochs suffered a seizure and collapsed. The seizure is believed to be the first for Chris and his collapse caused a traumatic brain injury that has had Chris in intensive care to this day. He has had three brain surgeries, a tracheotomy, and countless other procedures but just a couple days ago he was taken off a ventilator and is starting to wake up from this devastating accident.

Many of you around the world have grown to know and love my little brother these past few years as he has traveled around always looking for new adventures. It was during this travel that he found his love, Suzi Colpman. Just two months ago, while living in England with Suzi, Chris proposed and they were engaged and planning a soon-to-be wedding for this summer. Not finding any work in England, Chris returned home to get a job and fund this wedding so he and Suzi could be back together. It was at a job interview that Chris suffered his accident.

Throughout the years, Chris has helped out many of us. He loves traveling and meeting great people and carries a lot of lasting friendships with him. He’s hard working and intelligent but also stubborn and the last one to ask for help. I know he wouldn’t like me asking others to help him but he needs it.

Because he is unemployed he isn’t under an insurance provider, his recovery is expected to last several months and he will have a long road even after that. Two people that love him most, his mother Mickey and his fiancée Suzi have traveled here from North Carolina and England to be by him 12 to 24 hours a day putting their lives and jobs on hold. They will probably have to fly back and forth several times over the next few months which will add to expenses.

Whatever assistance you can provide to Chris would be greatly appreciated and allow his family to concentrate on getting him back to the carefree, fun-loving guy we all know him as. Thank you for all your prayers now and in the future.

I’ve already put my household’s donation down. If you’d like to do the same, I can vouch for this one. It’s a real guy, a great guy, in great need.

Donate here.

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If you’ve ever talked to me about books at all and what they mean to me; about saying “fuck you” to everything called literary in the centers of power and deliberately moving elsewhere; or about why I write the kind of characters I do; or, come to think, about my own character, about that isolated and melancholy sense of being left behind that comes of living in a world that never did seem to fit right; about growing up in the kind of rural lifestyle that was already anachronistic when I was living it, and left me with a ghost sense of authenticity that, now gone, makes me distrust the idea of authenticity altogether; hell, about country music; or about the huge importance of walking outside, preferable alone; about the spiritual worth of a certain kind of hedonism, not to mention of deliberately pushing yourself to the fringes; of rejecting everything that you can’t carry; of refusing as much judgment from your life as you can possibly handle for a kind of radical humanism based on the appetites and John Bradford’s old saw, “There but for the grace of God go I”; of the necessity of lonesomeness as well as joy, because, like Melville says “There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces”; of bourbon and heavy reading and fucking in the great outdoors; and all the BIG romantic nonsense I’ll talk about after one too many cups of wine or coffee, well, then you’ve probably heard me quote Big Jim Harrison.

And especially this from his memoir Off to the Side:

The trouble is that over fifty years later this life still lives within me and has presented unpleasant difficulties, including claustrophobia that is occasionally acute. It isn’t the hokum Daniel Boone-Robert Frost, city-country, civilization-wilderness thing, which is far too simple for actual humans, though it occurs regularly in our mythology, especially the aspects of the “mythos” that arise in television and movies. And low-rent fiction. You know, the guy has a pooch, a pet bear, says “darn it” a lot and can’t “abide womenfolk.” I mean something closer to the Portuguese notion of saudade, a person or place or sense of life irretrievably lost; a shadow of your own making that follows you, and though often forgotten can at any moment give rise to heartache, an obtuse sentimentality, a sharp anger that you are not located where you wish to be, an irrational and childish melancholy that you have cheated yourself of being married to a life essence that you have never been able to quite gather to yourself.

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Another giveaway, because I still have copies of Cry Father lying around, and I want ’em gone. This one should be even easier than the last, and the last ended in a three way tie after about two minutes.

But that said, here we go:

What’s wrong with this video?

Leave your answer in the comments. First one to get it right gets a copy of Cry Father.

(And just a reminder: If you actually want your copy of Cry Father, you have to message me, email me, tweet me your address. Else I’ll forget. And trust me, I’ll never remember to remind you.)

Update: The answer should be: The video does not show Luke Bryan being handcuffed to a chainlink fence and horsewhipped.

But really, any answer would do, because everything’s wrong with this video. So the winner is Jerry.

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From Black Wings Has My Angel. Good Lord, this book.

“But about the gentleman thing.” She waved her glass. “I want to make it as plain as the nose on your face. I can stand anything in the book but gentlemen. Because I’ve spent a lot of time, too much time with them, and I know why gentlemen are what they are. They’ve decided to be that way after they’ve tried all the real things and flopped at them. They’ve flopped at women. They’ve flopped at standing up on their hind legs and acting like men. They’ve flopped at being individuals. So they say to themselves one fine morning: ‘What can I be that’s no trouble at all and that doesn’t amount to a damned thing, but yet will make everyone look up to me?’ The answer’s simple. Be a gentleman. Take life flat on your back, cry in private, and then in a well-modulated voice.”

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