15 minutes of banjo fame

Some time ago, I took part in a project called Banjoaddiction.  This was a project of the alt.banjo newsgroup in which several of the newsgroup participants uploaded a few songs to a website.

About a year ago or so, some New York film producer or editor or something contacted me to request the use of one of the tunes I posted on Banjoaddiction.  (You can hear the tune here:  Used Car).  I said sure, just send me a DVD of the film.

So she did.  The film is called “Arctic Son”, and is a documentary about…well, I suppose you could read about it yourself here:  Arctic Son.   My tune is used as background music while a father and son try to repair their snowmobile.  The great fun is seeing my name in the credits—just a few names away, in fact, from Bela Fleck.  Who would have thought that Bela and I would feature on the same movie soundtrack!  (If you don’t know who Bela is, shame on you!)

About a week ago, I got another email from the producer or editor or something saying that the film will be shown this summer on PBS on 21 August.  So everyone in America, mark your calendars and set your Tivos and VCRs  and tell your pastors and analysts and mistresses, and listen to me play the banjo in the background of a REAL DOCUMENTARY on PBS!

No need to send telegrams or flowers or money.  The 15 minutes of fame is reward enough.



Jerry Falwell

The day Jerry Falwell died, my parents were visiting. CNN broadcast the story, and I got a cell-phone text message and a telephone call within 30 seconds (apparently) of the broadcast.

And I had to tell my father, “Jerry Falwell is dead.”

Let’s back up a bit. Jerry Falwell probably had dozens of friends. My father did not. Jerry Falwell was one of them.

Last year, my father lost two of his best friends. One was a Chinese pastor who was probably the best friend my father had had in his adult life. The other was a man with whom he had been close enough at one time to name his son after him. (Which led to something I resent, though not a lot: they knew the man as “Jeff”, so they named me “Jeff” and not “Jeffrey” or “Geoffrey” or “Jefferson” or “Jeffkingoftheworld”. I would have preferred “Jefferson”, but I wasn’t asked.) So Jerry was, for my father, yet another friend who had died.

Now, I have my own thoughts (as would my sister) about Jerry Falwell. And at one point I thought I should write a real obituary here on my blog. But I decided to wait in order to sort my thoughts. And, thoughts sorted, what I really want to say here is: Jerry Falwell was my father’s friend.

You see, I could write (as could my sister) about life at the college he founded. In fact, I could—and maybe still will—write an entire book on the subject. I could, better than most, criticize and ridicule the man, if that were my goal (though I don’t think I would ever have such a goal). I could get into the politics of the Moral Majority and homophobia and women-should-be-in-the-kitchen-ism. I could remember all of the sermons I had to endure with the cliched phrases like, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I could, in short, remember the man for his shortcomings. But I won’t.

For me, Jerry Falwell’s death was something else. I got a text message and a phone call, and I had to tell my father that another one of his friends was dead.

Criticize Falwell all you want. Hate him, call him misogynist and homophobic and racist (which he was, at least at one time in his past). But he was, as in fact all of us are, a human being, and some people loved him, and not because they saw him on TV and sent him $50 every month.

He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend to some. And Lord knows, when I die, I want to be remembered and missed for what good things I might have been—not for my political views, but for my friendship.

Luckily for me, none of my friends are nationally known, and none of them are as divisive as Falwell. Nor am I. So when one of my friends die, or when I die, we will be mourned for who we are and not for who the world has estimated us to be. This is a good position to be in, I think.

But Jerry Falwell was in the limelight—big, charismatic, controversial. And CNN and all the major networks carried the story of his death, probably with commentary about what it meant and how things might or might not change in America without him on the scene.

The story they did not carry was that of a man sitting at a kitchen table somewhere in Germany, playing a board game with his wife, son, and grandson, being told that yet another of his friends had died.

It’s a story it was up to me to tell. So I have told it.


Dream # 5: The “Northern Desert” dream

This is my most recent series of dreams, beginning maybe five or six years ago. It is not my most frequent recurrent dream, but it is the one which most baffles me. I have no idea what it means.

Here are the common elements:

1) I am always driving, and I am usually not alone. Usually, the drive is across the entire continental U.S.

2) I specifically want to take a route through the desert, because I love the desert.

3) I know, somehow, that the northern route is the one I need to take, because it is so beautiful.

There are variations, of course. One of the most vivid ones is that I am already somewhere in the desert in the southwest, and I choose to head north.

If I had had this dream only one time, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But I have had the “northern desert” dream dozens of times. And they aren’t just your everyday (everynight?) dreams, but strong, emotional dreams—the kind that keep you thinking about them for the next several days.

The dream has occurred enough that I have spent some time looking at atlases to see what kind of desert there is in the “north” of the U.S.

Which means we must go back a bit, again to my childhood. My parents are from west Texas, and they lived on the west coast for a few years—roughly, between 1961 and 1968. I was born in 1963, so these years are particularly interesting to me. One might guess that they traveled once or twice back and forth between L.A. (I was born in Orange County) and west Texas, and that I might…might…have some distant memories of the landscape of this particular journey.

But this particular route—from southern California through southern Arizona and New Mexico—I have also driven as an adult. The southern southwest journey—Interstates 10 and 20—are familiar to me. And I LOVE the landscape of the desert in this area of the U.S.

I love it. Truly. My idea of a PERFECT vacation would be to drive with my wife and son and a few friends through the southwest, visiting places like Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon and the Four Corners and Monument Valley, staying in motels and camp grounds and otherwise doing it cheap (you don’t stay at five star hotels in this part of the country, unless you’re some kind of sniffling idiot snob), and generally letting the southwest do its magic on me and my family and friends.

But my dream says: if I’m in the desert, I need to go north.

What in the holy hell does that mean.

After looking in my Rand McNally one night, I noticed that there is a lot of desert in northern Utah, and joked with my friend Gerhard that the dreams mean I am supposed to become a Mormon.

Otherwise, I am stumped.

Why should I have such an unusual, yet very specific, and often recurring dream, if it does not mean something?

But I am at a total loss as to what it might mean.

So that’s it.  I have given you my five categories of recurrent dreams, and I appreciate any and all comments.  Well, maybe I won’t appreciate them.  I am curious, however, as to what “normal” people think.