Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

What do you do?

 Jack’s weekly post –

 

In a previous post I spoke about my visit to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody, Wyoming a few weeks ago.

I felt I needed to put that into much more of a personal context, so here goes –

As I said previously my Grandad went to see the Wild West Show in Dunfermline in 1904, which was part of the last European tour by Buffalo Bill’s show and was augmented by additional subcontracted acts such as Zulu warriors as well as Cossack and Japanese horsemen.

I had always been intrigued by the notion of the cobbled streets of my historic old hometown being clattered by Native Americans and the Deadwood Stage, not to mention Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley!

bb

Buffalo Bill Cody himself!

But back in the early 2000s I was roped into collaborating on a CD featuring my friend and folk music mentor, the late John Watt. John was a wonderful and very individual songwriter and most of his songs were written from a very ‘Fife’ point of view. The CD was titled ‘Heroes’ and one of these accorded this honor was Buffalo Bill. I discovered that John’s father had also witnessed that 1904 performance in my (and his) hometown.

We talked about this shared family history and it turned out that John had written a number of songs about that occasion, and two of them were to be on the album. One was a quirky and very funny one called ‘The day that Billy Cody played the auld grey toon*’ while the other was much more thoughtful – ‘The Wild West Show’.

The ‘Wild West Show’ describes the mix of acts, but also points out that the massacre of Wounded Knee had happened just a few years earlier and suggests that the answer to the ‘Indian Problem’ was to turn them into cheap entertainment, playing a parody of themselves in front of European heads of state.

John very rarely wrote ‘message’ songs, but this one, with a great tune and a very sing-able chorus has been covered by many other performers and is one my own favorites.

Shortly after we left Cody we deliberately drove to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre where we met a number of descendents of the survivors staffing tables by the side of the road. They weren’t selling trinkets or souvenirs; nor were they asking for money; they were just there to tell their story.

I felt very guilty that many of the Scots that were ‘cleared’ from the highlands and survived the coffin ships to reach America, then proceeded to ‘clear’ the indigenous folk they found there in turn.

The irony is that because this was the last tour, some of the Indians decided to stay on in Glasgow. A ‘ghost shirt’ they had brought with them ended up in a local museum and was finally returned to the US five years ago – quite a circular tale!

“The red man rides for the white man’s fee,
Better than a grave at Wounded Knee,
I better he never thought he’d see,
The spires of the auld grey toon*.

“Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill, my daddy saw you comin’ down the hill.

A big success for soldier blue, with the last brave dead in the snow,

What do you do with the Cheyenne and the Sioux?

You put them in a wild west show”

 

*The auld grey toon is an affectionate nickname for Dunfermline.

1 Comment

Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

East, West – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

When I realized that Wendy had the bit between her teeth and was well down the road to organizing an extended road trip starting just a week after I got back from Scotland, I admit that my heart sank just a little.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that it had all started back in February with a comment from me: “I have always wanted to see the Mount Rushmore National Monument”. So Wendy set out to pull together a trip that would include that, as well as other sites I had mentioned in passing, such as the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody. She added in places she knew I had to see along the way, including the South Dakota Badlands and the Black Hills.

sf3

The truth is that I shouldn’t have had any misgivings!

This has really been the trip of a lifetime and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. From the delights of downtown Sioux Falls, to the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, the home(s) of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the amazing Badlands (even more so in an evening violent thunderstorm), Mount Rushmore and the natural sculptures and wildlife of the Black Hills. The equally unforgettable Minuteman missile site – – –

Perhaps most memorable has been the wildlife – the delightfully domestic prairie dogs, ponderous bears, athletic deer and regally oblivious bison!

Wounded Knee 041

I had already experienced much of the eastern states and some of the west coast, but the mid-west is new to me.

East, west, hame’s best? Sometimes east and west can give hame a run for its money!

PS – I forgot to mention that my grandad saw Buffalo Bill’s wild west show, complete with the Deadwood stage, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull etc. back in my hometown of Dunfermline in 1903!

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Wendy Welch

Monday Book (on Tuesday)

Jack is deputizing  for Wendy this week – and still jet-lagged from his annual visit to Scotland.

Hamish Henderson – a biography by Timothy Neat (2 volumes)

Two admissions –

1 – I knew Hamish Henderson, and 2 – I read volume two before I read volume one.

I really wished I’d read the two volumes in order. The second one covers the period when I knew Hamish and when he was much better known generally as the great promoter of the folk music revival in Scotland and founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. The trouble is that anyone who had the slightest knowledge of him during that period is now vying to have been his best friend. I’m not one of these since although I admired him enormously and we were acquainted we were not close friends by any means. I say this because the second volume kind of reads as a personal appeal by Tim Neat to be recognized as not only THE HH authority, but his best friend and associate.  Now that may be true, of course, but I don’t think it needed quite so many reminders.

Leaving that aside, I greatly enjoyed both volumes but particularly the first one, which was a revelation to me. I had only the vaguest idea of Hamish’s earlier life and really no knowledge of his childhood or war career. It may be that because the first volume is based much more on research than personal anecdote there are many more voices present than in the second one and less of Tim Neat’s.

Looking back at what I’ve written I can see that I may have been a bit harsh, but that’s simply because I had such admiration for Hamish. He encouraged my (and many other’s) interest in Scottish traditional songs and ballads, he took on the establishment and he never sought personal recognition or fame.

Perhaps I was too close to the events and history of volume two to be objective in my appraisal.

If, like me you want the complete story of a remarkable life then there are a number of recent books out there and, despite my slight misgivings Timothy Neat’s should certainly be counted among ‘required reading’!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Old World, New World, My World

It’s often only when you’re pulled away at short notice, with many loose ends left dangling, that you realize how many real friends you have. When my sister’s funeral summoned me to Scotland, I was worried that even with Internet availability and my trusty laptop, there were chores that folk at home just wouldn’t know needed to be dealt with, things the bookstore required that wouldn’t get done.

With the evidence of over a hundred messages of condolence and many more FaceBook ‘likes’, and with a high proportion from around here, I should have known better. It’s a guy thing, I guess.

Of course Wendy bore the brunt of it and cheerfully juggled duties while also dealing with a writing deadline and the current exceptional stress of her day job at GMEC–not to mention grabbing the opportunity to ‘launder’ a fourteen count kitten rescue through the store while I was away. I could also depend on the usual emergency cover by the heroic James, Kelley, Kody, Elizabeth and Mark and my exceptional ‘soul-mates’ Tony and Anne.

This core group of people that are a kind of loyal bookstore family (Wendy is family, of course, but you catch my drift) each rallied round and in whatever way they could. This reduced my panic to a bearable level and let me concentrate on family and friends at a time that, although predicated on sadness, also involved a lot of reconnecting with family and friends.

My final evening in Scotland before returning home was an invite for dinner with one of my oldest friends. My former singing partner Barbara had asked me to her and her husband Oliver’s new apartment in Edinburgh along with another couple of friends and her son Archie, who did the catering. Despite having just moved in and with only half the rooms habitable, we all sat down to a relaxed and memorable meal, punctuated with lots of memories of the folk and jazz scenes in Dunfermline, where we had all grown up. In the middle of the evening Barbara began to describe her visit to Big Stone Gap two years ago with her husband Oliver when she headlined our Celtic festival. She spoke of Kelley and Sam and their kids, describing Kelley as “a kind of female rugby character, someone you felt you should not mess with but who has a kind heart.” She depicted life in the bookstore (“kittens everywhere, all adorable”) and reminisced on their visit to Carter Fold (“the dancing, such a community”) I realized that I’m exceptionally lucky. Because I have another extended family back in Scotland, some of whom have visited here and made the connection. I consider myself doubly blessed!

My dearest wish would have been for ‘Big Sis’ Margaret to come over, visit with us and become part of that bigger family, just like my niece Vicki and her daughter Elle.

I had been plotting, but it wasn’t to be – – – Time waits for nothing. Enjoy your family, biological and chosen, while you have them. They are a blessing.

2 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

And I would walk – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

It’s Wendy’s birthday at the end of the week and back around the time of my birthday in February she asked me for a very specific present. Not a fancy expensive thing, but just a song. Not any old song, though, and not a traditional song which would have fitted with my usual repertoire.

The song she asked me to learn and then perform publicly at a gig coming up April 30 was ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers!

The Proclaimers are brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, who grew up in Auchtermuchty in my home county of Fife in Scotland, which is also the town where Wendy and I married 18 years ago.

I really wasn’t sure that I could do justice to the song, particularly after watching various excellent performances on YouTube. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I spent weeks going around singing it to myself until I learned the words. But a funny thing began to happen. It may be because the Reids sing in a broad Fife accent very similar to mine or maybe it’s because the sentiments of the song are quintessentially Scottish, but I found myself falling for the song. Of course the idea of demonstrating love by being prepared to travel a long distance – five hundred or even a thousand miles – is a very common motif in folk-songs and that may have chimed with me too.

The opportunity to perform the song had also been a long time in preparation. Almost two years ago our good friend Mark Merz, who leads the excellent Celtic band ‘Night Crossing,’ had proposed a ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ concert at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion VA. At the time we weren’t able to pull it off, but with the appointment of a new director for the theater the idea was again raised and the sainted Kristin Untiedt worked enthusiastically with Mark to realize his dream.

Also appearing would be our old friends ‘Sigean’ and another local band ‘Fire in the Kitchen’. The idea was to present a live concert version of my radio show and record the whole event for future broadcasting. So a lot to plan and a lot to potentially go wrong! Sigean were happy to give backing me in the song a go, but our only actual rehearsal opportunity was a brief 15 minutes between the sound check and the start of the concert, back in the Green Room.

Soon the theater began to fill up and the concert began. The first half featured ‘Fire in the Kitchen’ and ‘Night Crossing’ who both played wonderfully. The second half would start with Wendy and me followed by Sigean with ‘500 Miles’ as our last item to make for an easy stage transition.

We announced it was Wendy’s birthday present, and then as I began to sing the first few words, the audience reaction was amazing – an enthusiastic shout went up, and everyone sang along. I hadn’t realized just how popular or well known the song was. There’s a special feeling you just occasionally experience when performing – when everything clicks and the audience is right with you. It was such fun.

I may just have to keep ‘500 Miles’ in my repertoire now! Wendy says I have to sing it to her every year on her birthday. That could happen. We’re going to Asheville this weekend with friends, and I see a rendition on their trolley bar that pedals through the streets, the patrons singing lustily. Or perhaps drunkenly.

If you’d like to see the live performance from the Lincoln, click here.

2 Comments

Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The State we’re (not quite) in.

Jack’s guest blog post is a little late this week –

In the middle of all the hoo-ha in NC just now with big music stars cancelling appearances in protest against the so-called religious freedom legislation, I noticed an appeal by Malaprops bookstore. An author scheduled to do a signing had cancelled and they argued that he should have come and shown solidarity with a business that opposed the new law.

I suppose because it is one of our favorite bookstores (and Wendy has done a signing there herself) it made me pay a bit more attention to the question.

Of course this has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with blind prejudice.

It’s ironic that many of the early European settlers braved a dangerous journey across the Atlantic in small sailing ships in order to escape prejudice. Over time, of course, it would be their descendants who would revert to putting up the shutters against Irish, Italians, Japanese, Jews, Mexicans, Hispanics etc., etc. You don’t have to dig too far into that list to see religious overtones either.

The worst example, and its legacy is still with us, is color prejudice – something so deeply rooted that I fear it will take many generations to completely die out.

A further irony is that one of the things that makes the United States distinctive in the world is its culture – the art, music, dance and storytelling traditions that mix and blend threads from all the individual cultures of the incomers along with the Native Americans who were already here.

It’s the artists who are in the vanguard of this latest battle and I salute their integrity in the face of this degrading, politically populist and downright rabble-rousing move. Wendy and I love Asheville and visit the city frequently to enjoy its cafes, shops and very European atmosphere. It’s very hard to believe what’s going on in the state as you wander through its downtown mingling with the street musicians, mime artists, dog walkers et al.

And, what of Malaprops’ cancelled signing? For what it’s worth I think that got more attention than a few words on the day would have.

 

1 Comment

Filed under bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

To Caffeine or not to Caffeine? That is the question.

bean memeSo most of you know I turned in the manuscript to Fall or Fly, my journalism-storytelling book about foster care in the Coalfields, and then got sick. For a week I was down, during which I basically didn’t eat or drink much.

Two weeks later, down I went again with something viral. With the end result that no coffee has been in my body for almost a month. Nor iced tea, nor hot tea, nor other caffeinated beverages.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been monitoring how that changes anything – do I sleep better (possibly, jury is still out) feel better (the same) see any other advantages (I get out of bed ready to go as opposed to needing 30 minutes with the mug) or disadvantages (there really isn’t anything to order at a hotel for breakfast except expensive “juices” that don’t taste like real juice).

So, those of you who have kicked the habit, or who haven’t, any words of wisdom? Booksellers who don’t drink coffee are not unheard of. Booksellers who don’t drink coffee OR hot tea (Earl Gray, hot) are a bit more unusual. What will I drink at the salons? What about when out with girlfriend booksellers? Or just girlfriend posse members? There’s a whole social aspect to coffee, as there is with cigarettes. Will I miss the rituals? Will I miss the camaraderie?

Send thoughts. Send chocolate (I do still partake of that caffeine source). And thanks!

15 Comments

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch