George Jones on my iPhone
While I had Southern parents, I didn't grow up with George Jones. My parents didn't listen to country music as far as I heard. The only real S
outhern music traditions they brought into the house were my father's love of Dixieland jazz and the hymns my mother used to sing at the stand up piano we had for most of my early childhood (though it was the act of her singing hymns in the living room that probably felt more Southern to me than the hymns themselves, which were Methodist). Growing up in a Midwestern college town with literary aspirations, I avoided country music. It seemed hick and corny to me, something my farmer's sons and daughters schoolmates must listen to on their tractors and combines. I felt surrounded by "countryness" in those days, and longed to be on the east coast or in a bustling city. I listened to old timey crooners in my early teenage years--Julie London, early Barbra Streisand covers of jazz standards, Nat King Cole. And later Billie Holiday, whose records I used to play at night to lull me to sleep.
George Jones found me in my late 20s, when I was living in upstate NY. I had been invited to some friends' party in the snowy surrounding countryside. They asked if I could pick up another one of their friends who didn't have a car. I was glad to as I was an uneasy driver. It turned out the person they wanted me to pick up was a man I'd had a crush on for years. He was from rural Kansas, had a wheat shock of hair which waved above huge blue eyes and a cartoon nose, a facial flaw that made him seem all the more handsome. He had a genuine twang and seemed to always be laughing at some private joke, which maybe had you at its center. We headed out to the party and played nice, tried to act like strangers, but in our small town we knew a lot about each other already without having met. I don't really remember the party, but I do remember we took off early and headed back to town. He invited me up for a drink, and I said yes, floating in the surreal feeling of unspoken dreams answered.
For the next few hours, we sat in the dark, our feet gingerly propped on the open door of the electric stove, its red glowing heat element a makeshift fire, while George Jones played on the boombox. "The Grand Tour" was my favorite that night, and remains so. The elaborate domestic narrative; the impossibly smooth, agile, yet wiry voice of Jones--able to work more syllables into a word than anyone. Later I would discover his early scratchy recordings where he sounds all nasal cavity and Hank Williams (e.g. "Why Baby Why?"), the consummate heartbroke hillbilly. Those early recordings are beautiful in their own austere way. But the peak career recordings of "Tender Years," "From the Window Up Above," "Take Me" etc. most transported me. When I say his name, my voice lapses into an echo of my mother's Georgia accent. (And I may be the only person on Earth who retains a copy of his autobiography). Has ever a man sung pain as openly as George Jones? Not the angry broken heart of rockers, but the self-abasing lament of a self-acknowledged sucker. A well meaning but beer-soaked loser. Hank Williams always seems to have a tongue more fully in cheek about lovelorn matters (e.g. "Move it on Over") or a more purely nihilistic kind of loneliness ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"), but Jones' suffering always feels right here on earth, the next bar stool over. Self-pity carved into a gorgeous-throated tool by that elegant twang.My relationship with the Kansas boy never worked out; his attachment to Jones perhaps should have been a clue to his own broken nature (the NY Times obit devotes almost 3 inches to Jones' addictions and wild days. The trouble started early: he was born with a broken arm). But George Jones has stayed in my life ever since. When I got the NY Times alert on my phone today, I was sad to see Jones was dead. But I was happy to see the Times at least knew his passing was well worth a news alert.
Window Washers, Adams St.
The Star Captain Luchadores of Tamale Spaceship
When I first visited New York City as a teenager in the mid-1970s, one of the things that fascinated me was the street food. I think I had my first knish out of a street vendor's dubiously hygienic steam drawer. (And maybe my first Yoo-Hoo). Street food seemed at once sophisticated and practical to me--how romantic to grab a bite on the streets/heartbeat of NYC; how impossibly convenient to get lunch in under a minute.Chicago is not a street food kind of town, in part due to city regulations, but more recently, food trucks have been allowed to operate
and have been embraced pretty enthusiastically. As I was on the bus headed downtown a couple of weeks ago, I spied the signature silver bullet-like "Tamale Spaceship
." Out of a barely adorned, utilitarian looking truck, they serve the kind of food that makes you walk that extra mile, so I jumped off the bus 2 stops early. My pick is typically the simple rajas con queso. The guys are tolerant of my pidgin Spanish; I remain their "amiga" regardless. I'm always conscious of having a great city moment when walking away from the Spaceship with a bag of hot tamals.
Though we've still a week to go until the month T.S. Eliot famously dubbed "the cruelest," March has been pretty darn mean already. The winter is, albeit not as bad as it could be, clinging with a bit of a vengeance, having taken a holiday last year. Today was brisk and cold, with a bracing wind and spitting snow.Such was the backdrop in Chicago's Federal Plaza for a rally in support of marriage equality, on the eve of Supreme Court arguments on the Prop. 8 same sex marriage case, and 2 days before oral arguments on a DOMA case (the backstory for this particular DOMA case can be seen in the documentary, Edie & Thea.
)I stopped by the rally early, and immediately came across Violet, her brother and Mom. I normally feel a little queasy about seeing kids holding signs at political events, but Violet--and her sign--were pretty irresistible. She cut out pictures of pretty bride ladies and put them into marrying couples. Her collage reminds me a little bit of a scrapbook I kept as a kid which consisted mostly of my cutting out pictures of various objects that I liked (say, table lamps) and pasting them in. Only Violet's is much girlier (and um political). Anyway, she was nice enough to let me take her picture (and you can just make out her brother behind her with his boy version).
The NYTimes published a great and easy-to-read guide
to the possible paths SCOTUS could take on these cases. I'm no expert courtwatcher, but I'm betting that they'll take the most politically neutral and limited path possible, at least on the Prop 8 case. (You can hear the oral arguments on the SCOTUS website
this Friday, apparently) But it feels like it's just a matter of time now until sex isn't a barrier to marriage. I teach about marriage, and I long for the day when I can cover same sex marriage in a sentence rather than a convoluted, extended lecture that requires a patchwork map. I know that we'll look back on this time and view restrictions on same sex marriage as simple prejudice, much as we look back on racial restrictions on marriage. Odd to be living in that knowledge.A couple of activists spoke before I scurried home, one of them a woman who came out as a lesbian at Woodstock in 1969. She spoke about the married-like lives of so many same-sex couples she knew. And while I usually hate the narratives of "we're paying taxes so we deserve X," there was something very compelling about her taking this approach to same sex marriage: we're paying the Sup Ct justices, we're fighting in the military and we can't marry, can't rely on shared property rights, etc. Nothing like a normative argument wielded by a non-normative voice.
Weddings pretty much always bring a tear to my eye, and today the wedding talk--the aspiration to union and commitment, with all its flawed human yearning for perfection--also brought a tear to the eye.
I don't expect much from this Court, but I left the rally feeling alive with hope; bubbly with color and humor from the high spirits and occasional quips; invigorated by the human, petitioning congress. Married to everyone.
I left Chicago in snow for a week in Kansas, where my house, most of my stuff, and my husband are. Not exactly a bi-coastal life, but sometimes the displacement feels just as radical. My Chicago yard was piled with snow, in Kansas spring flowers in my new garden are already starting to bloom. Spring ever the most surprising, the most certain.