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.

Monday, February 2, 2009


The motorcycle photo is from James Gang Rides Again..........
The band photo is Traffic........

I don't know where to start. The amount and quality of music that I was being exposed to in 1970 is awe inspiring. It fed my spirit. It kept me alive. It was so real and vibrant and permeating that I think I existed on it. There was an overlapping of Soul, British R&B, Psychedelia, Southern R&B, Southern Rock, Folk, Blues, Bluegrass and Jazz, with a big heaping of fabulous songwriters- ah, so tasty, so satisfying.

I am a big fan of Traffic. I loved Dave Mason's "Alone Together" and when Van Morrison put out "Moondance", I learned about poetry and romance and rhythm. I was still listening spellbound to Blind Faith and even though Sweetheart of the Rodeo came out a couple of years earlier, I just got turned on to it sometime in '70. It is a true classic and epitomizes the fusion of genres possible then that are not so possible now.

I miss Gram Parsons every day.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel was the #1 song that year according to Billboard, and it truly captured the feeling at the time. The Beatles said "Let It Be" and broke up. That fall I was riding around Southside listening to Free's album "Fire and Water" and the single "All Right Now".

There are just too many songs and artists to put in a narrative. I am going to list them on the gadget device on the blog.

Each time I look at the titles and the album cover art I get a rush of sounds, smells, emotions, and associations that surround me like long lost family. This was my world. I mean, come on, could there ever be another song like "Lola" by the Kinks? or "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor, or "He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother" by the Hollies?

There was so much freedom to mix, to sample, to play, to experiment!There was an open invitation every day coming from everywhere. It reached me on the radio- even if it was a more watered down version of the live music that was the real thing. It came through to me- Joni Mitchell, Doors, The Who, Plastic Ono Band, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, the Allman Brothers and on and on.

In the fall of 1969 I saw the Rolling Stones in Auburn. I almost didn't get to see them. I was living in Dorm K at Auburn and some nitwit set off the fire alarm the night before the concert. We were told that if the guilty party did not step forward then we would all be on lockdown.

It took only a few minutes before a horde of girls marched the perpetrator to the HouseMother like a sacrificial lamb. Ratting someone out vs. the Rolling Stones- hmm-let me see-Yeah, the Rolling Stones,

I went to see Alvin Lee and Ten Years After in Atlanta at the Atlanta Auditorium in December, 1970. It was like going through a door into an alternate universe. I am not sure I ever came back into this one after that. That was a heavy scene.

There was a concert in Birmingham sometime that year or the next that featured 6 bands (our only music festival) and one of them was Cactus I think. Someone told me that the Midnight's Voice was in operation then, but I don't recall it. I did see the Dixie Dregs there a few years later. I went to see the Allman Brothers free outdoors on the Quad in Tuscaloosa just on the spur of the moment one night. Wow.

Most good concerts were elsewhere and out of reach. I used to hang out at the Wooden Nickel (later called The Nick) but there was no live music then. We also went to the Upside Down Plaza and danced and carried on to juke box oldies.

Sometimes we just put on a stack of Moody Blues records and drifted away from Southside, Birmingham, Alabama, and the USA.