SECTION NINE

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COLUMN NINETY-EIGHT, OCTOBER 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

LETTER FROM NASHVILLE:
PART TWO: A SOULFUL TRIP---PANAMA TOURS NEW ENGLAND

I.

Nashville TN, July 17th, 2003 - - Bradford, Vermont, is a small town on the border of New Hampshire near Dartmouth College. The Volvo and I pulled in on the morning of June 21.

Though it was a Saturday, the street was occupied by very few people.  All the scene required to be right out of High Plains Drifter was an old yellow dog lazily crossing the road.  Maybe I was looking the other way.

The only things open seemed to be the grocery store/deli, a clothing store with the best flannel collection I have ever seen, a bookstore and the public library, which is situated in an old building complete with round tower.  I had by this time grown accustomed to the prevalence of buildings so old they seem to have sunk into their surroundings here in Vermont. Upon finding out that there was nowhere to get a drink this early in the day, I sauntered over to the library to check my email, of which there was blessed little.  Maybe I didn't saunter.  Maybe I merely walked.  Anyway there was not much happening in cyberspace.  So I returned to the deli, bought a ham and cheese sandwich and a Gatorade and asked for directions to Middle Earth, where I would be performing this evening.

Turned out that Middle Earth was right around the corner from the bookstore.  I went and tried the door.  Nope.  There was encouragement, however, in the form of a poster announcing my performance this evening.  I returned to the grocery, and because my cell was inoperative in these hills and/or latitude, I borrowed their phone and put in a call to Chris Jones, the proprietor of Middle Earth.  Got a message.  Since he couldn't call me on the cell and since I didn't want to wait around for a drink til four o'clock when the spaghetti joint next door opened for business, I looked at the map and rapidly discerned that Sunapee, NH, home of Aerosmith and my friend the artist Sebastian Houseman, was not all that far away. The Volvo and I set out for Sunapee.

I arrived an hour later in Sunapee, and after a couple of false starts, Sebastian and I finally connected.

Sebastian Houseman, American artist, is the progeny of the famously dignified actor John Houseman ("We get our money the old-fashioned way: we STEAL it..." says a framed New Yorker cartoon of the old gentleman hanging on Seb's wall).  I first met Sebastian when he was a snot-nosed kid of seventeen in Coconut Grove, Florida.  Now he's a snot-nosed kid of fifty living in Sunapee, married to a marvelous pastry chef and cook and exquisite intellect and all-around good ole girl named Margaret.  For a while he was part of the road crew for The Legendary Panama Red with Montezuma's Revenge back in the day when I toured with a band.  He is also godfather to my daughter, Megan.

I had been planning to stop over for a few days with Margaret and Sebastian ever since the New England tour had taken form.  They reside in an old farmhouse built somewhere around 1750.   I got the Benedict Arnold Room.

As it was now verging on six pm, and as my gig was to start at nine, Sebastian agreed to accompany me back up the highway to Bradford and Middle Earth.  Along the way we chatted about my upcoming tour of France, beautiful young girls we had loved back in the Grove salad days and whatever became of them (most of them, but sadly, not all... survived to become beautiful old grannies), and Art and Music and other intangible and evanescent Things That Start With Capital Letters, just as we have always done throughout the course of our friendship. We arrived back in Bradford about seven.

II,

Middle Earth is a folksinger's dream come true.  Located in the basement of an old (of course) building just down from the dam and just up from the river, it features a marvelous sound system, ably manned tonight by Ren Millican and his faithful sound dog Chance, and a homey stage decorated with a moosehead that turned out to be made entirely of velour.  There is a kitchen that cranks out killer sandwiches---I chose the roast beef---and a worldwide selection of hoppish quaffs.  I had Amstel, of course.

This outpost of culture in the Vermont backwoods is owned and operated by Chris Jones and his partner Sue Monica, "the brains of this outfit."  Chris has been producing events here in Bradford for a number of years, either in venues too small for the audience or too large for the acts.  For a while he promoted concerts in the Bradford town hall, "until the fire marshal decided we were having too good a time.  He was probably originally from New Hampshire, the sonsabitches".

Chris finally solved the problem by going whole-hog and acquiring and refurbishing Middle Earth, which is of an appropriate middling capacity.  To give some idea of the importance of this venue, here is just a partial list of acts who have appeared at Middle Earth since its opening in 2002:  Norman Blake, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Duke Robillard,  Aztec Two Step, Tom Rush, Jonathan Edwards, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Eric Andersen, Ellis Paul.

Sadly, tonight he could have used a smaller space, as about eight people turned out to see the RedMan.  Still, Chris and I soldiered through the evening, he absorbing his losses and I absorbing the bruises to my ego.

Okay, there weren't many folks there, but the ones who were---they were quality people, let me tell you.  One thing about small audiences: by the end of the evening, we were old friends.  Guests


The Old Man of The Mountains loses
his face


included Eric Vogel, a professor from Dartmouth, no doubt there to hear that fine and sensitive Kinky Friedman/Panama Red ballad Homo Erectus.   There was also a fine blonde babe, but she was fiercely guarded by her escort.

After the stage lights were out and our close personal friends---the audience---had gone home with CDs and T-shirts, Chris and I talked amicably for awhile, but then we caved in to the inevitable and said goodbye until next April, when Dartmouth will be back in session and I can reasonably be expected to be a better draw. Then, Sebastian  and I pointed the Volvo east back toward New Hampshire.  Thank you, Bradford, and Middle Earth...and Chris Jones.

III.

Throughout New Hampshire, on license plates and state road signs, the same icon continually turns up: "The Old Man of the Mountain".  The Old Man was a rock formation, a cliff face visible for miles and inherent in the lore of New Hampshiremen since way before the American Revolution.  It was venerated in the hearts of those who "Live, Freeze and Die" since time immemorial as, among other things, a symbol of what makes New Hampshiremen different  from oh, say, Vermonters.

But a few months ago something happened to the Old Man that caused a great sadness throughout the state.  The Old Man fell. Tumbled from his perch leaving a new, and not very picturesque, cliff face in his stead.  Dire predictions had abounded for countless years, guy cables had been attached, all to prevent what is, after all, a force of Nature, namely gravity, but to no avail.  The Old Man gently slipped his moorings one day and crashed to the forest below.   As I say, it was a tragic event, and New Hampshire continues to mourn.

Back in the Benedict Arnold Room the next morning after the Middle Earth gig, I awoke to birdsongs and a bright new day.  Sebastian had recently had his silted-up old pond dug out, and was in the process of landscaping the verge around the recently expanded and deepened hole.  I had offered to help, especially as this would give me the excuse to play with one of his garden tractors. 

So after a petit dejeuner and some lung exercises that left me in a lighter frame of mind, I donned my old sneaks and shorts and joined Farmer Seb out in the yard.

"Ah, the Artiste stirs.  Here, put these on," Sebastian said, handing me a new pair of cowhide gloves. 

We raked and shoveled and hauled and hauled and shoveled and raked all that morning.  Finally I had to ask:

"Hey, Seb, what's this sneering semi-contempt that New Hampshiremen and Vermonters seem to have for each other?" 

"Well, mostly it's a put-on, but New Hampshire thinks Vermont is a bunch of fairies, and Vermont thinks New Hampshire is a bunch of uptight country assholes.  But like I say, it's mostly a put-on attitude...each state actually feels a lot more contempt for the other forty-eight than for each other.  Well, maybe not Maine.  Maine's okay."

"They'll be relieved to hear that in Maine, I'm sure," I say.

"Nah.  Mainers don't give a shit what anybody thinks one way or the other."

"So New Hampshire thinks Vermonters are fairies?"

"Surely you noticed the preponderance of lesbians in Burlington, Panama."

Actually I hadn't, but that would explain the vast selection of flannel I had seen at the store in Bradford. 

I spent four totally wonderful days in the warm atmosphere of Margaret's and Sebastian's company. Even as we shoveled and hauled and raked, etc.  I have never felt so welcome or so at ease.  Margaret is so easygoing as to permit me to call her by variations of her given name, Marge, Margo, Marzhay, Peggums, every permutation I could think of, something Seb says is rare in her.  She is a patient wonder.  And, as I say, a marvelous cook.

Our last evening together we had "lob-stah".  So much lob-stah that we couldn't finish. We sat around the table, our bellies stuffed, looking sadly at the two we hadn't been able to get to.

Next morning, Thursday, June 26, I set out once again to my final gig: The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT.

NEXT: PANAMA PLAYS THE BUTTONWOOD, VISITS WITH FAMILY IN CONNECTICUT, WEST VIRGINIA AND KENTUCKY AND COMES HOME  ##

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