Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Creativity and Madness

During the strange time period I have just described, I became exposed to many ideas and issues. We interfaced with the Birmingham Reporter, later the Paperman. I wrote a music review of a Jerry Garcia album that was published. I started reading Chomsky and Foucault, became engrossed with semiotics and other exotic subjects.

I also started reading Southern Exposure and fell in love with its oral storytelling journalistic style-it was folk history combined with stories about the real players in power politics- an early version of Rachel Maddow. I read Global Reach and was introduced to globalization and its consequences.

After it got so intense that I quit my job, we left Birmingham to move to Victoria, British Columbia and got as far as San Francisco- at least my horizons were broadened somewhat. That was a crazy trip! We came back to Alabama when we ran out of money.

I am afraid that after this all ended so tragically, I did not know much what to do with myself. I started hanging out at the L&N Cafe downtown. That place should have been preserved as a museum. There never has nor never will be such a place as that again in Birmingham. I will describe it in detail in my next post.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It was 1973 and all things seemed possible. I bought a Subaru that year, but first I have to tell you how I came to buy it.

It was maybe April, 1973. I was weeks from graduation from nursing school. I decided one evening to visit a friend and I brought along a new album to share and listen to. It was Fragile by Yes. A new horizon was barely visible and Yes music was perfect. This friend was someone I had met through my ex. He worked at the only computer business in Birmingham at the time, so I was impressed with his knowledge and cutting edge-iness. When he answered the door and I showed him the album, he pulled out the same album from his collection- Yes met Yes. It was an Event.

It turns out the this person I will call D was a frickin genious. The real thing. I could relate to him in some ways, but mostly I felt that I was learning at an accelerated rate. Remember the movie with John Travolta where he starts learning languages, learning everything, faster and faster. It was like that. The atmosphere was rarified with energy and real knowledge- not just philosophy and conjecture but actual stuff- mathematics, physics, biological sciences, architecture, music, acoustics, art, history, politics. He was talking about getting a personal computer. People did not have personal computers in 1973.

We ended up setting up house in Crestline Village. His parents owned the house. I finished nursing school and started work at the VA. For some reason he quit working and just stayed home. I made enough money to live on and then some, and it was fun to have someone take an interest in me. I was pretty much on my own in the world, not much in the way of family, so I enjoyed being taken in. I failed to notice that I was the only one working. I worked hard, and then had lots of time off to go on short trips, go to the beach, whatever. D held court all the time at the house in Crestline. We had all sorts of people dropping by to take part in the scene there and it was quite a scene. I was educated, but my folks were like the best of the hillbillies. D's family was well off, and well connected. I guess they tried to accept me- I was never treated unfairly by them at all. Everything was so loose back then, it was hard to know what the "norm" was.

We traded in D's van and I sold my Opal. I bought the Subaru. The subaru had an "airplane engine"- the newest thing. And it was lime green. Too bad we burned up the engine.

One of the most astonishing things I remember about that time was a trip to see the Grateful Dead in Indianapolis. We went with a strange group of unlikely people in a van. We all took some kind of acid and D drove without any problem. It did not seem to affect him at all. We were incapacitated for hours, some people worse than others- I mean really nonfunctional- and he just drove on, talked with me, in the most nonplussed fashion. It was like riding the jet stream. I knew then something was very different about D. It was a great trip, and the show in Indianapolis was fantastic in every way.

Initially then, everything was fun and very stimulating. I met some wonderful people who are still good friends today.

I will never forget our house. On the wall behind the sofa was a huge color graphic painted on the wall by one of D's friends who was an artist. We had orange plasic parson's tables with small orange plastic lights. At the time, it was ultra hip in a kind of futuristic way- not the hippy stuff I was used to. The house was in a small village so I could walk to the grocery store or library. It was a nice change from Southside, although most everyone who came over was living on Southside. We were just sightly removed and safe there, ie I did not feel like the police might bust in at any moment!

I made elaborate macrame plant holders and we bought huge lovely plants for the porch. It was the nicest place I had lived in thus far. We talked about everything, especially politics. I started reading the New York Review of Books.

We started a company to do software. We went to Atlanta and finally acquired something like a prototype of a computer. We could run it by connecting by modem to the main frame at the University. Just as that started to take off our partner the software writer moved to California. That was the end of the company.

Then other things started to shift. Our newspaper friend, J, moved to American Samoa to work for a paper there, and to have a South Sea adventure. D had started becoming more vociferous about various events. Of course we all were more and more concerned with the Vietnam war and the horrible things we saw on tv on a daily basis. It was a paranoid time, a time for paranoids. It was hard to separate things out.

The first strangeness was American Samoa. Coincidentally, Doonesbury was all about American Samoa at the same time- not before-at the same time that our friend arrived there. I cannot describe what was happening in my head then. It was all aswirl. The best analogy is Apocolypse Now! I was losing my footing in reality, and it was not from too many drugs. I rarely did anything at that point except smoke pot. Everything was too real- I did not need anything "recreational" to enhance what was going on.

So, to this day, I have no explanation for the things that happened in 1973 and 1974. I wish I did. From then on, things got crazier. There were more unexplained connections and coincidences. D was getting more manic. It became, and indeed was, just like A Beautiful Mind. None of us knew it, but D was descinding into Schizophrenia. It was tragic.

There was an intervention eventually, and more strange events that included Humphrey Osmond. What he was doing in Alabama at Bryce Hospital I will never understand. I survived somehow and had to remove myself. I moved back to Southside.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Early 1973

Life was happening fast. I could see the end of school coming. I was single and directionless, unless you count as a direction the direction of whatever fun was going on.

I did graduate in the spring, and took a job in the Intensive Care unit at the Veteran's Hospital in Birmingham. I was making big bucks, had 4 weeks of vacation yearly, and had nice benefits, none of which meant a thing to me. I was suprised to find that I was good at nursing, and did well on the job. I do have some funny stories about working there- and it was intense to say the least! The medical center is part of the Southside so I was right in my element.

We did everything as nurses at the VA- the more experienced nurses ran the place-instructing the docs (they were all Residents from the University of Alabama medical school) who were always just passing through. We had male "orderlies", there were no techs. We did our own respiratory therapy, were our own pharmacists, made up all the IV's, peritoneal dialysis, etc. We had people on drips with no IV pumps at all, ventilators, cardiac monitors- we did it all. We even had a lab on the unit for putting in transvenous pacemakers. Have you ever sat and twiddled a knob to capture a heartbeat or run a dopamine drip rate up and down to keep someone alive? I scare myself when I think of what I was doing at 21 years old.

I loved the nurses there- they were such great role models for me. They were confident, well educated and kind to me. Firm, and kind. That is, the nurses I worked with were kind- not the administrative nurses. They were a whole 'nother animal.

One story involves a young guy that was in a coma. One day he was on a gurney coming back from a test and as I was wheeling him back on the unit he opened his eyes, looked up at me and said "kiss me"! In my astonishment and youthful enthusiasm I gave him a kiss on the cheek. I was of course immediately called in and given a lecture, and written up. Another time I slept late. I was called within minutes of not showing up, again lectured up one side and down the other. Nurses don't just not show up. I learned that lesson really well that day. Another evening our usually horribly busy unit just emptied out. We had three stable patients. In those days they did not send nurses home if "overstaffed". The young doc that was on the unit said "let's play some cards". Next day we all got lectured and written up.

One day we had 4 Code Blues at the same time. Another evening, I was the lone nurse in the MICU with 9 patients, 2 orderlies and had to prepare and administer 4 peritoneal dialyses at the same time. If anyone reads this that knows what I am talking about- is that even humanly possible? In spite of all that, I did learn a lot there, and the things I got to do were exciting. I worked back and forth in the CCU and the MICU so I did get a lot of training that always served me well.

So I was working. And at the same time I guess I needed a little more excitement in my social life so I started seeing someone that I had met through my ex-husband that had piqued my curiosity. That is the beginning of a story of epic proportions. It will take a while to figure out how to tell that story. So much of it is ineffable. to be continued

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Ladies

I yam who i yam, but would not be so yammin' if it were not for the influential women in my life.

I guess I was just going along, listening to the Supremes and the Chiffon's and others. Aretha Franklin hit the scene and blew me away. So funky, so 150% emotion. I think she woke me out of the slumber of the sweet and nicely packaged music. Another great was Carla Thomas. I love her voice. I was kind of afraid of Nina Simone, did not appreciate her until later on- she is one of the great greats.

Joan Baez, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithful gave me a taste of another world- where women were talented, forthright, fragile and kind. They weren't afraid to sing it out for everyone to know.

On the teen scene sprang Janis Ian singing " I learned the truth at 17" and it was so cold, so real. She was our Alanis Morrisette. Carlie Simon was also real- real, but more sophisticated and cool. Carole King was inspiring. Her music was very accessible and made me think I could write songs like she did.

I think the greatest influences came from Grace Slick, Jonie Mitchell (in a class by herself), Linda Ronstadt and Janis Joplin. I could listen to their songs over and over, sing along, and FEEL along with them. They were women- gutsy, outstanding, no holds barred, and I was paying attention. I started listening to Bonnie Raitt much later, only discovering Sweet Forgiveness in 1975. And when I saw Donna Godchaux singing with the Dead, I thought she was a Goddess!

My inspiration to play guitar came from Joan Armitrading. I will never forget listening to her first album. Somehow around 1975 I decided that I wanted to learn the bass.

Remember that at this time there were no role models. These were the originals, and I looked at them and took them in for what they were. There was no cynicism at the time as far as music went. I am grateful for that.

So looking back at 1972 now I feel much better about it all. It was not such a bad time after all. I was impressionable, open minded, directionless, but kind of grounded in a funny way. I attribute my sanity to music and the musicians that played for me.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I will resume the reminiscing soon. Just back from vacation where I got a chance to talk with someone who helped me remember some things I had forgotten. I was trying to follow up and figure out when I saw Joni Mitchell and I found a wonderful thing on Joni Mitchell's website. All her old concert dates are listed and there is a place for browsers to record their memories of the concert. I love that. I wish I could find that on The Band and Little Feat sites. Now I know that I saw Joni in Tuscaloosa in 1976. It was a mesmerizing concert, and we were lucky to have her performing in Alabama.

Having just seen Bob Dylan last Saturday in Berkeley, I am reminded of how few opportunities I had to see the greats of our time, and how special those time were. Dylan, bless his touring heart, has been to Alabama several times. He is still going strong, has a great band backing him up, and was very magical in concert this time, conducting and shaping the music. There was no warm up band, just a two hour tight set, in the open amphitheatre on the campus. Nice!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Local Music

Someone I dated was friends with the folks in Red, White and Bluegrass, a local bluegrass band. Bluegrass music was becoming very hip. Within a couple of years my friends and I started going to wonderful bluegrass festival weekends at Horsepens 40. We listened to Norman and Nancy Blake and Glen Tolbert- a fast pickin' guitar player from Alabama- and many other stock- in-trade bluegrass groups.

I was invited up to the mountains of North Carolina for a weekend with the Red, White and Bluegrass band members, and got to hang out with band members, including Norman Blake who was playing with them at the time. This was before he got together with Nancy I suppose. He was an odd, quiet fellow, but just amazing on the mandolin. It was winter and they were playing at a ski resort so it was a nice, cozy atmosphere. I was in awe of them all. I loved the way Ginger Boatwright sang, and the fact that they wrote some of their own music. I think Byron Berline played with them as well. Check out their album if you can find it. It is my only album that is not square (really, it is not made in the shape of a square, it is a can shape).

I noticed that Grant Boatwright now plays with Neil Young and was on Saturday Night Live with Neil last year.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


So I just go on and on about the music. Really, it permeates everything having to do with 1972. Here are two wonderful, witty and wry dudes that touched my soul. I still listen to these songs and think Glory to the Day by Jesse Winchester might be one of my top ten essential singer-songwriter-y songs. Jesse was off in Canada because of the war, and Jackson Browne was just arriving on the scene. If you will indulge me here, I will later submit a blog to the lady songwriters whom I must salute and thank for inspiring me to write songs. And I will come back to Jesse Colin Young. But first accolades to these princes...

Thank you both for sharing the love!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Honorable Mention

I have to devote a whole blog to Layla. It came out in 1970 but I did not start listening to it obsessively until 1972. It means so much to me musically, and sentimentally, due to Duane Allman's ethereal presence.

It also foreshadowes my move to Macon, Georgia later in 1978.

The album has tones and echos of the South- stories and romace and unrequited love. The cover art is beautiful. Every song is a gem, and it was such a collaboration!
Layla itself is a blend of styles that are seamlessly joined like a luxurious garment- it wraps itself around you and holds you in a special place that is timeless. Just listen to it again- it has no trendiness at all.

Lucky for us in 2009 there is a young musician who has inheirited this quality of musical presence. His name is Derek Trucks.

Bell Bottom Blues, don't fade away....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mixing and Mingling

I really wanted to skip this year. Why? It seemed rather jumbled up at first glance. Kind of crazy and surreal. I got divorced for one thing. Too many Sopers and no sense of direction. And what else was happening? Watergate, Jane Fonda in Hanoi, weird stuff- like George Wallace running for President of the United States, and then surviving an assassination attempt as a paraplegic. It was also the last year of freedom before I started working and paying taxes. I had a lot of fun, too.

I was back in Birmingham in the fall of 1972. I was disappointed to find that the good-clean-living jaunt in the country did not last. Back on the Southside,there was no longer a psychedelic shine to everyday life. It seemed easier to go back to drinking beer and joining in with the rest of the gang. I had several buddies back in the 'Ham that I could hang around with. I was trying to finish nursing school but actually I was just going through the motions, determined to just get out. I really enjoyed nursing school in Dothan, but when I came back to Birmingham, the Jefferson State experience was not that pleasant.

I was not sure what I was going to do when I graduated, nor had I given any thought to whether or not I would even enjoy nursing as a profession. One of my instructors was insistent that I should enter the field of psychology, and found a job for me at a local Psychologist's office. I had a trial run to see if I might like it, and I found it rather boring- I did not want to do group therapy with a bunch of neurotic, depressed people. (Rather prophetic, since I ended up doing many, many group therapy sessions later in my career, and in fact participated in many sessions as the neurotic, depressed person) So I just partied on and kept up a brave front.

Birmingham was not utterly depressing at the time. There were things to do and the evolving youth culture was getting a foothold on the Southside.I started learning macrame and continued doing embroidery. I found ways to express some fashion sense beyond just being barefoot and jean clad. (Native Funk and Flash and Handmade Houses are my favorite books about the decorative arts of the time.)I had a lovely apartment with old posters and lots of plants. It was pretty and serene. And there was still lots of great music.

The music of 1972 reflects what I was also doing- experimenting with newly found freedoms and getting more seriously introspective about it all. Stevie Wonder went in the studio and produced Music of My Mind-writing the songs, playing the instruments, doing the arranging and recording. Some of my very favorite albums came out in 1972. I guess you could characterize it as a time of mixing and mingling. Just look at these albums!

I was following a philosophy of living that I later read about in an article on Picasso (no, not comparing myself to his genius). I cannot recall the French phrase for it, but basically it was throwing oneself into the mix, into the scene, into the jaws of life. I did not know any other way to do it.

I have a wonderful iconic photo from that time. It is a picture of some of us after a game of Frisbee, sitting on a wall. The photo was taken by my friend Java Man. There was no identifiable coupling, it was a group portrait a la The Big Chill, and for the next decade the only way I knew to survive and get by was to share food, housing, and transportation with my friends. I am so grateful to the people who shared their shelter, creativity, wisdom and ideas with me. I soaked all of it up like a sponge. You can see the images here that reflect the larger forces that shaped me.

Yes, I was close to the edge!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Southern Beauty

I have to take a break from the "scene" for a bit. There is too much turmoil and uncertainty that I remember. There are other images from that time that are less dramatic, but were there in the background, providing something that sustained me, I believe.

I am thinking about mimosa trees blooming in June- pink, deep pink and white and fragrant as only mimosa blossoms can be. (Yes, there are white mimosas if you look carefully for them.) And huge magnolia flowers on huge magnolia trees with deep green leaves. And blackberry blossoms, and blackberries. And fireflies in the evening in the warm warm summer evening. And deep red skies at sunset. Water- on the lake or the river or creek- water is everywhere in Alabama. Mountaintop views. Thunderstorms and the aftermists rising up from the rain cooled streets. They don't call it Alabama the Beautiful for nothing.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I am awed looking over the albums that I listened to in 1971 listed on the sidebar. It is hard to place the branching and broadening of musical creativity (and with it the art and artistic consciousness that accompanied everything musical back then) in context with the daily images of death and destruction coming from Vietnam via the news. The mainstream mindset had not yet given up on the idea that to oppose the war was analagous to being a traitor. So finding myself in the outcast role, I did not think about having a career, owning a home, driving a nice car, or even having a television set. There did not seem to be much of a future to imagine. Even Lennon's song was an ideal set way up on the mountaintop. The imaginists were dead, never made it out of their 20s.

What we did have was very much in the moment. We had all read Be Here Now by Ram Dass, and we did have the means to intensify and deepen the experience of the moment. There was an awakening of sorts going on, and awakenings are not always pleasant. Reality was shocking, like the Manson killings, or the Weather Underground bombings. The feeling was something like a runaway roller coaster- exhilarating and scary- and with too much momentum to stop.

As James Brown sang- Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved- Something had to give, something had to change.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I have lingered long over memories of 1970. I guess I can now move on, but reserve the right to remember something else and backtrack if necessary. In an earlier episode I described going to Auburn and getting married. So I am picking up the story line again back in Birmingham in the fall of 1971. Things were beginning to break down on the Southside. I had some friends who I found had unhappily wandered off into areas that repelled me. I did not find their "adventures" appealing, adventurous as I was. The whole scene was already devolving, and I was getting older (ripe old age of 19).

One day we got the bright idea to move to the country. I think the whole youth nation had the same idea- it was probably a survival instinct, and it was highly romanticized by our culture heros. "Goin up the Country" by Canned Heat played at the beginning of Woodstock, and Woodstock itself was a celebration of country life- mud, outdoors, camping out, living off the land, free and easy spirits and all that. People were heading for communes and retreats with the idea that dropping out was the only way to keep your head and your heart intact. Things were very tribal.

We decided to go to a very very rural area of the state. Nicky would teach school and I would go to nursing school. We found a house outside of town- a very small town- and set up housekeeping. I rode a schoolbus to the nearest larger town which was Dothan, and went to school at George Wallace Jr. College at no cost to me. I loved it. My teachers were rather puzzled by my appearance but eventually accepted me and actually gave me a great nursing education. I was a straight A student but I had only one outfit- my same embroidered jeans, now well patched, and a pair of red and blue tennis shoes that I bought for 50 cents. I did have a couple of t-shirts. Birmingham was about 10 years behind the scene, but Dothan was even further behind.

I had no peer group, but that was ok, because I was now married and "settled down". I rode the bus back home each evening, and will never forget the guy who was a Vietnam vet who rode the bus along with about 25 of us. He had a glass eye with a Playboy bunny in the center of it. Gives you an idea of what I mean. One time we invited another young couple over for dinner. When I said something about Bob Dylan the woman said "isn't that the new store over in ....? What can you say?

That year we had the best time with the openess and quiet of the Alabama countryside. We were also 5 miles from the Florida line so we could drive to the state line and eat oysters at a roadside open air oyster bar or head on down to the Gulf. That was nice. We also joined the Columbia Records record club, and got albums in the mail like Aqualung by Jethro Tull and Meddle by Pink Floyd. We got a puppy and named him Shamus for a line in the Pink Floyd album. As I said before, sidetrips from Southside saved my life!

So as the year changed to 1972 and the school year came to an end, so did the country life experiment end. We decided to move back to Birmingham that summer, and went right back to the Southside scene which was now in full tilt boogie mode.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I can't imagine how my developing personhood would have turned out had it not been for the Firesign Theatre. Beginning in the late 60's and up until 1976, I could look forward to each new album and each new experience with this surreal craziness. To listen to Firesign Theatre was like undergoing a mental housecleaning, reality check and realignment all at the same time. It was hilarious and challenging. There was nothing passive about hanging out with the characters. Story lines were weird and compelling, interwoven with new and creative forms of funny stuff. They invented themselves and kept us guessing.

Others like Cheech and Chong were funny, but their humor was more predictable. And they were always just two druggies.

These are the albums that I have and treasure. It's all cheap shots but no cheap shots. This is an art form that should be evolving!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Southside Life

At the age of 18 on the Southside in Birmingham I spent a lot of time in Caldwell and Rhodes Park, and walking around Highland Avenue.

I want to take a memory tour around the area.

The heart of Southside is 5 Points South. The intersection now famously has a fountain with metal sculptures by Frank Fleming. The sculptures depict a storyteller who is a goat, reading to other animal characters. It is perfect for 5 Points.

Behind the fountain on one side is the beautiful Highlands Methodist Church. It is a huge place with a spanish tile roof- very impressive but not imposing. As the name 5 Points suggests, roads lead away in 5 directions. Down Magnoia Avenue was Magnolia Park where we held some sort of candlelight vigil- I can't remember for what.
Highland Avenue starts at the corner where the Cadillac Cafe was, and above it was a huge Barber's milk neon sign. Further down Highland you pass the Town House, the first of two Presbyterian Churches, the Jewish Temple, the Western supermarket, and then it continued to wind around Caldwell and Rhodes Park, huge old homes, apartment buildings, Unity Church, past a small Lutheran church, and another huge Presbyterian Church. The famous Sheraton was there, and the Sheraton grocery, the Highland Market, and there used to be a large Catholic high school, John Carroll, right there in the middle of it all. At the end of Highland was the Highland Golf Course. The Sheraton was famous because it was where we could buy beer!

Going in the other direction on Highland (called 12th Ave, then 11th Ave) are other shops including the Golden Temple, the area's first health food store.Across from it is the very large and imposing white marble Southside Baptist Church. Going north and south from 5 Points is 20th Street South. The drive into the intersection from the South gives you a full view of the city and you pass right under the torch of the Vulcan, the gigantic god that sits atop Red Mountain. If you want to get a feel for this from the view inside a car (it is a little unnerving the first time you take the curve and see over the edge while maneuvering in 4 lanes of traffic at the same time)it was filmed just at this time period in the movie "Stay Hungry"- a weird weird film with Sally Field, Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwartzenegger who plays a body builder.

Continuing on north headed into Birmingham on 2oth Street takes you to the campus of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, University Hospital and then dividing the south streets from the north streets the cobblestoned Morris Avenue, which was Birmingham's attempt at imitating Underground Atlanta. I do remember the Crazy Horse club was there. It is also home to the Peanut Depot.

Side trips could take you over to Glen Iris, George Ward Park or to Clarimont Avenue and Forest Park. Phelan Park across from Dreamland Barbecue did not look like it does today. There was no Dreamland, and we called it "needle park" for obvious reasons.
Mostly it was a joy to either drive all the curvy roads or walk around up and down on the Southside. I could visit my friends who lived in houses and apartments up the side of Red Mountain so views were plentiful. I think my favorite place was Letchworth. It had the best most close up view of the city and the building had all the style and character of the 1920's.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Two Steps Backward? or

Ok, so I had to go back to Auburn again, after I first took a trip to the Gulf Coast in December, 1970. It was so beautiful at the beach that year in December.

I went with my true soul mate Curtis. I knew we were soul mates because we even had the same birthday, January 4. He was one year older. We met by happenstance on Southside a few months earlier. I went to a party one night with someone I can't remember that I knew from high school. I met another guy there who was more fun, and left with him. His roommate was Curtis. Curtis was a prominent businessman on the Southside. Anyone remember gold microdot?

Curtis was from Santa Rosa. Back then the Santa Rosa and Grayton Beach area was almost uninhabited. One of the good things about Birmingham is that it is between the Smoky Mountains and the Gulf Coast. It was easy to go either direction and be in beautiful surroundings in a few hours.

So naturally we went to Florida for a little trip, and went to the beach and stayed all day amongst the sand dunes at Grayton State Park.

That is how I lost my car. I was still only 18 years old, and parents giveth but also taketh away. They also decided that Southside was a little too much for me, and didn't I want to go back to Auburn?

So I went back to school, and that was the end of Curtis and me.

Auburn was not really much better than Southside as far as being safe from wild goings on. Although I must say, I got a creative education inventing fun things to do. I went with a fellow student up to Ashville, NC to see the snow and mountains, and we went to see Rod Stewart in Knoxville. Rod Stewart was great- especially the band- I guess it was the Faces with Ron Wood. Knockout! Also the dam slides were good for hours of fun when the weather got warmer that spring.

Soon thereafter I met a guy named Nicky who was about to graduate with a degree in Math. He certainly was a prominent businessman in Auburn at the time. So of course, all the action was around him and his friends. I went to a few classes but was pretty bored by school. I started reading Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Sartre, Vonnegut- all the usual suspects.

By April, we decided to just get married for the heck of it. I borrowed a "Mexican wedding dress" from a friend. We went to the courthouse in Opelika and got married. Just like that. I did not even have any shoes on, nor did I have any kind of ID. We told them we were students and they married us! He graduated in May, and we moved back to Birmingham.

You know, come to think of it, if I had stayed continuously on the Southside during those heady days, I might have lost my head entirely. I think the side trips extended my life. To be continued.....

Monday, February 23, 2009

In Stitches

I started embroidering in 1970.
I started with the only article of clothing I owned which was a pair of already worn out bell bottom blue jeans. I was at a friends apartment one day, and a woman there showed me how to chain stitch. Someone drew a picture of a Capricorn goat for me and I copied it on the leg of the jeans. I used some thread that was fuzzy. I think it was cross-stitch thread. I wore those jeans for several years by patching them over and over. The jeans also had a red and white patterned border about 2 inches wide along the bottom of the cuff. I lost them along the way.

After that project, I started collecting cotton DMC threads and began embroidering for anyone that inspired an idea. Most of what I have done was given away, and is now either trashed or put away in someone's closet or storage bin. There were some that were just spectacular. I particularly miss the two headed dragon I did for a guy named Steve that used to live with the Doobie Brothers. He introduced me to them when they played in Atlanta with Loggins and Messina. I got to go backstage to meet them, and then got to stand on the side of the stage when they played. I also miss the full jacket back Harley Davidson embroidery that I did for some dude in Macon, Georgia.

So here are some examples that have survived.
The photography is by In A Flash.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Early Influences in Birmingham

Childhood was for the most part pretty nifty in Birmingham. We had the zoo with this cool train to ride.

Up on Shades Mountain stood the Temple. You could see it from Shades Valley or from Red Mountain looking south. What a site. I believe it was the spiritual counterbalance to Vulcan.

It was torn down by the Vestavia Baptist Church people who built their church there. One day I hope someone rebuilds the Temple.

When I was very little, drive-ins had swingsets where we could play in the warm summer night, then fall asleep in the car while our parents watched the movie. As teenagers, we went to the drive-in to watch past first run movies cheap. We would fall asleep and have to be waked up by the drive-in staff telling us "time to go home". Innocence.

Kiddieland was the best place ever. Bumper cars, the Twister, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Octopus, the Mad Mouse, the Swings.

Fair Park

Life was good.

Beautiful surroundings, family friendly places like Kiddieland, and --what happened?

My family was returning from 5 Points West one Sunday after eating out at a restaurant in the area. There were few places to eat "over the mountain" back then. Out of nowhere someone was throwing bricks, and it was pretty clear that something big had happened. There was a riot going on, and we got out of there in a hurry. That moment was when the reality of Birmingham broke through. I found out that four little girls had been killed by a bomb while they were at church that Sunday morning.

That morning remains one of the most compelling events of my life. I was the same age as the girls who were killed. I had not yet contemplated human mortality, but I understood my own mortality in a very personal and visceral way that day.
All this to say that although I grew up in Birmingham, and lived through the entire civil rights movment, most of it was unknown to me as a young child and teen. Television and newspapers were careful to air only what was permissible. If a national broadcast or movie was objectionable, it was not shown in Birmingham.

I was lucky that my mother and father were not particularly racist. My father sold homes to middle class blacks families and had good relationships with all sorts of people. However, no one could escape the pervasive atmosphere of fear that enveloped Birmingham. So much hatred. So much paranoia. Our high school band could not go to the Macy's Day Parade that we were invited to due to racism and stupidity.

I tried to forge ahead and be a liberated woman and all that.

When the women's liberation movement hit me I was going to college at Auburn University. I had been politicized by the anti-war movement, and even made the front page of the Auburn-Opelika newspaper carrying a protest sign. I got a shock of reality when I tried to get fellow female students at Auburn to sign a petition to stop the school from keeping us locked up in the dorms. No one was interested.

I was a free spirit, so I threw myself into the mix of the happenings of the day looking for salvation and inspiration. Politics became art form in the food coop and organic foods movement, the anti-nuke movement, black power, consciousness raising groups, underground newspapers, the downward mobility movement, the back to nature movement, native American awareness and spirituality, and of course through music and performance. We had street theatre back in the day. More blogs later on all this stuff!

I know now that a wonderful Alabama photographer named Spider Martin was present to the events that were hidden from me during the Civil Rights era. He took many memorable photos that have become iconic images. I remember seeing his studio in 5 Points South at Cobb Lane. I was not a part of that art scene, but I would like to know more about what was happening then.

It helps to grasp the things that have shaped me, and to expose the not so pretty past. I want release from those binding traumas, and as a citizen of Birmingham, Alabama, freedom from unnecessary anxieties and learned ashamedness about this place. That is a large part of what this blog is about for me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Worlds Collide

I have to drop back a little in time to 1968.

I was in high school, and my boyfriend said that Jimi Hendrix was going to be performing in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama. I had seen a photo and story about Hendrix in Teen Magazine. The photo showed him burning his guitar on stage and it made an impression on me. Of course I wanted to go.

I went to the show in my best Villager outfit. When I walked in, I discovered that I was perhaps the only person there with a Villager outfit on, whereas at my high school, if someone did not have a Villager outfit on they would have stood out as if in bas relief, as I must have in Tuscaloosa. But since the event was so surreal I paid it no mind and was instead awestruck. I liked it, I really REALLY liked it.

At 16 most of what I was listening to was not on the radio with the exception of the local WAQY show that my friend James Enright was DJ-ing. I had some really fantastic and creative friends that listened to great music. I was lucky that way.

The culmination of my induction into the "new world order" was the release of Woodstock, the movie in 1970. I went to see it 8 times at the old Ritz Theatre.