To My Brothers in the Brotherhood

To My Brothers in the Brotherhood

(When I left work – exhausted and hot.
Our secretary was hanging directions
to our meeting on the union board.)

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

It is my direct action to love!
Go home directly, hug my boy –
kiss the wife and hit the sack.

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Brothers, one day you will take
this union as sacrament.
This power we seek is to unite human
heart with sacred vision.
To be forward thinking – with resolve.
Our kinship, our favor.
Our love for one another,
will be our saving grace.
It is radical to speak without kind intention.
It is what it is, is the mantra of the broken.
Reality dictates that our strength comes in numbers.
It is ignorance that expects people
to come, who have not been invited.
It is morality that guides us to be all inviting.
Conscience that tells of our failure.

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Let us not fall to fear of what might
happen if we raise our voices on high.
They will say, “they won’t stick together!”
They will say, “they don’t care!”
They will say, “they have fallen to
greed and don’t understand!”
Let us be like the tree,
planted by the water.

For I was happy but now I’m not.
I was lost but now, I’m found.
Was blind … but now I see.
I am employed by your favor!
Let’s not get lost in arguments.
Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us now greet each other &
feel open hands meet &
raise our voices on high!
Sing:

There is power in a band of working folks
when they stand hand in hand.

Amen.
In solidarity!

P.S
I make motion to change
the name of our union to also
include the word.
Sisterhood.
Can I get a witness?

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Mulberry Hill

Mulberry Hill

1.
To
be
raised
on the Clark
family home place –
George Rodgers Clark Park –
my front yard – Mulberry Hill –
where Louisville’s first family settled.
I’m sure there is plenty to say about George.
I’m sure they were privileged. It was a blessing –
to play in the rich Grey Kentucky clay! Play war in our
grass forts, throwing walnuts at each other. My
Brother and Sister at my core – our undaunted childhood
discovery. We were privileged to be free to play.
To be told not
to come home
until the sun
was sinking low.
2.
I remember “no niggers” painted on the roof of the
lodge, in the park where we swam. We played basketball
together – they had big family picnics, family reunions.
I remember when they painted over the
wrong words with white paint. And then
the letters would eventually bleed through –
like some sort of cruel joke, like a stain.

I don’t remember seeing any “niggers” in the park!
My mother told me the word on the roof was
wrong. I remember “stop busing” painted on the
stop signs. I remember the two black kids in
my neighborhood catholic school. They stuck out
like a sore thumb. They didn’t stay long …

I remember the mean man who would run us off
when us kids would get too wild.
He ran the park from a little office in the lodge.
His name I don’t remember. He carried a five gallon
bucket and picked up trash.

I remember majestic grandfather cottonwood
trees blowing in the hot humid summer breeze –
sapping cherry trees and the flooded creek.
The tree that was surrounded by a large fence –
the story behind it. They said an Indian woman
sat there with her dead child in her arms.

Her tears watered the tree as it grew around her.
They said you can still hear her weeping if you put
your ear up to the tree. They also said it grew from
George Rodgers Clark’s sword.

Oh how I remember walking across that park …
to find my Dad. At the end of the bar at Tim Tams.

– I would stand under his shadow.
His work truck parked in the lot.
Oh how I remember the real cherry
cokes! Pickled bologna and crackers –
the men and their work conversations.
The wooden shuffle board game and
the heavy metal pucks.
Falls City beer in ten ounce glasses,
salt shakers on the bar –
the telephone that would ring –
the bartender telling the woman on the
other end – “ no, he is not here.” –

4.
Privilege is relative, not a good place to start
a conversation. Political correctness is relative too!
Triggers are pulled and buttons pushed! We can
only be so careful not to offend.

It was a privilege to be a free child –
before Anne Gottlieb was stolen –
before those Trinity boys were raped –
before they beat to death that gay man in
Cherokee Park with a Louisville Slugger.
Before media told us who we were supposed to be –
before AIDS became a household word.
Before cable T.V. terrorized our airwaves
with a constant droning.
5.
Times are a changing. Time has been known to do
that. Naturally. I act out in defiance of the norm. I rebel –
taught to question – raised by resilient men
and women. People who were trying to dream. In America.
The land where their fathers and mothers died.

It is a privilege to be alive –
it is work to tread water –
to keep your head above it all.
6.
May peace be with you.

The Table – A New Book By John Paul Wright

 


The Table is a book about becoming a radical activist. It is also a book about what happens to a person, a folk musician, radical activist when they burn out. This book is about being the first musician to open the I.W.W endorsed musical tour, The Joe Hill Roadshow.

This book is about inspiration, meeting famous people, NYC, Christopher Street and … meeting with poet Wendell Berry several times at his farm in Kentucky. This book is about railroading, hobos and darkness. It is a wee bit about wildness and want.

This book is about me, growing up with a mother who was a radical activist. This book is also a little about being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, living with the scare of a relapse. This book is absolutely, punk rock and slightly a bit Grateful Dead, minus dreadlocks and rainbow family oiled hippies, but … add bikers.

I wrote this book because when I was in marriage counseling, the counselor suggested that we needed to know our story. I also wrote this book because a woman, who is also a radical activist, suggested that I should keep writing it. She was reading a few chapters that I had shared on social media and thought that I was being courageous talking openly about mental health issues.

It’s intended audience would certainly be for young radicals. It would also appeal to older folks who remember some of the names that I mention in the book. I hope the audience would be somewhat GENx. I am from that branded generation and think we might be stuck in the middle of something. I would also like to think that my involvement as the National Organizer with Railroad Workers United, my two year stint with Teamsters for A Democratic Movement, my folk music audience and my membership in the I.W.W. might add to the list of rad progressives who would buy this book.

This book is the first title released on the newly formed Long Steel Rail Press – more to come on that soon … 


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*** BREAKING *** Appalachian Coal Report – Boom or Bust, You Decide …

Leave the Lights On For Me is a song that I wrote on the day that the CSX railroad announced that it was going to shut down the Clinchfield coal division section of the railroad. I started writing the tune on a train heading to Nashville and finished it up at the hotel.
Many of my coworkers were being relocated due to the bust situation in the Appalachian coal regions. This tune represents what I was seeing happening to my friends. It is also an honoring of the rich folk music tradition of the Clinchfield Mountains.

How Tomorrow Moves is a CSX railroad slogan and Coal Keeps The Lights On, is the slogan of the coal industry’s propaganda arm, Friends of Coal. Because our Conductor and Locomotive Engineer seniority districts cover almost the entire country southeast of the Ohio River, railroaders were being forced to move from places that they had lived for generations.

Because of short-sighted union contracts and an aggressive / abusive employer, workers were being expected to spend 30 days working for free with the threat of not being able to “hold” a position when they were finished with their territory qualifications. Folks were being expected to “qualify” for upwards of 30 days. No pay!

lyrics

Leave The Lights On For Me
07-07-2016

I left my darlin’ family in a little ol country town
chasin’ these trains across the state.
When I call my little children they ask me
“daddy when ya coming home?” and
I just don’t know what to say.

This railroad says I have to train on my own dime, for thirty days.
Well, no one should be expected to work for free.
When I ask my union brothers, they say “it is what it is”
Now that we have southern system seniority.

[chorus]

So I am, moving to the city to be employed or unemployed
Workin’ for this railroad for free.
I wonder how my kids are doin?
Wonder how my wife is holdin’ up.
And will those friends keep the lights on for me.

They say “coal keeps the lights on” but I can’t pay my utility bills.
And there ain’t no guarantee there’ll l be a spot for me to fill.
Then ill have to go somewhere’s else for 30 more days.
I guess this is “How Tomorrow Moves”

[chorus]

My family’s lived in eastern Kentucky for a really long time.
Working for the railroad, or down in some dark mine.
I’m proud to be a miner’s son,
never signed up to live a life on the run.
I wonder where those friends of coal are now.

[chorus]



*disclaimer

In a boom or bust economy – this song has been the breaking news for generations.
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Tapestry by Donna and John Paul Wright


Section 1 – Even Further

 Even Further – was the working title of this project and a poem that was written on the first day of 2015. Donna renamed the project when we were reviewing the final mixes from LaLa Land Studio.

The poem somewhat was a warning to what might happen if you try to go Further than that. Especially if the folks on the “Further” bus are a nuclear family trying to transverse the winding road of American life post whatever the hell we are supposed to be post of these days.

The CD is in two sections. The first seven selections are songs that Donna and I had been working on when we could find the time to sit down for a minute. That time was not very available. The second section of the CD is why that time was not very available. I was working most of the time, 65+ hours a week as a Locomotive Engineer and on top of that, I was working as a volunteer union/community organizer. Donna was back at the house, homeschooling our son, Jonah.

We were both suffering from severe isolation and I was suffering from overwhelming occupational fatigue. The music was an escape. The CD was recorded in 3 or 4 studio sessions. Most of the second section was recorded on a day when I had already worked a train back from Nashville and had been awake for over 30 hours. The railroad life is historically lonesome and hard. When I got to the studio, I was exhausted and fatigued from a 65-hour work week. I gave the session my all.

Donna and I poured our hearts into this project.

100 Flowers –  is a compilation of poems by two prominent women poets. Emily Dickinson’s “I Never Saw A Moor” is juxtaposed with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “One Hundred Flowers.” The song 100 flowers combines light and shadow, as the vibrancy of Millay’s life and poetry contrasts greatly with the somber mood of Dickinson’s. This song is a celebration of women poets in all their glory and gloom. dw

Freedom – is an honoring of one of the most memorable musical performances that I have ever seen. I saw the Woodstock movie on the screen when I was a young teenager and will never forget seeing the powerful Richie Havens. The backstory of his performance is fascinating. jw

As the opening act at Woodstock, Richie Havens was supposed to perform for only 40 minutes. But when an unexpected traffic jam delayed the other performers, organizers asked him to keep playing. Three hours into it, Havens had run out of songs, so he started to make one up to the melody of “Motherless Child,” a spiritual he’d sung as a kid. “I think the word ‘freedom’ came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me,” he said. “I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out.”

 Songs Are Blue – is a song that I learned while I was on the Joe Hill 100 tour. I met songwriter, Jason Eklund, in Illinois and he traveled with me for several of the performance dates. This song, to me, is very needed these days. My favorite line is – pink, is for open hands. jw

Dance This Waltz – I heard about a contest where the descendants of Joe Hill, the I.W.W. songwriting organizer, were giving away a gorgeous handmade guitar. Contestants were to take one of his two poems that were found in his apartment while he was imprisoned and facing a death sentence, and put them to music. Since putting poetry to music is my jam, I jumped on it.

I looked at the two poems and knew immediately which song I would do. As usual, I sat down and fiddled on the guitar and the song melody poured out. The words are truly beautiful and I wrote the melody and arrangement at a very lonely time in my life. My husband was working for the railroad and union organizing all the time and I felt very estranged from him.

I was deeply longing for his love and connection. It is a very hard song to sing. It’s filled with a dream of freedom and longing. Joe Hill would be executed before ever dancing that dance or experiencing the etheric magic that he describes, in what can only be a love poem to whoever held his heart at the time. dw

She’ll Never Be Mine – From U. Utah Phillips Starlight on the Rails songbook.

This song kind of sums up all these things that happened in the west after the civil war. It’s a boomers song about silver mining, about farming, about cattle ranching, with the recurring refrain, “I guess she’ll never be mine, “but with the final statement, “ I’ve won all my treasures so simple and fine, and I know one day she’ll be mine.”

 That’s what union organizing or any kind of organizing is supposed to be for: to help working people, no matter what their trades, to reach out toward each other, the sit down together and define their problems, define their solutions, and then to get to work on it and begin to get back some of the wealth that they have created over the years.

 This is a love song. It’s my love song for the country I come from. I’ve tried to include in it a lot of the ways I know other people feel about it too. bp

Tapestry – is a love song I wrote for John Paul at a time when I was very lonely and longing to hold him and look into a future at a beautiful life we might share together. My music is not worked on or written, instead, I get my guitar and receive the song. I usually have something on my mind or a poem before me that then takes flight of its own.

The light and overarching brightness were born when the image of the ancient Egyptian goddess of the sky came into my mind as she was arching over the earth. It reminded me of being protected by an arch, like her body in the ancient paintings; an arch of light and love.

To this song is added a much-loved nursery rhyme, “Donkey, Donkey Old and Grey” that I sang to my son when he was a baby. Finally, “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” is thrown in. Notice how much I love singing the donkey part, as I could not stop singing it in the studio. dw

Section 2 – Work Songs

The Capitalist System is a song written by Kentucky CIO era union organizer/ songwriter Sarah Ogan Gunning. I changed her original lyrics to match why I also hate the capitalist system. Sarah Gunning when asked if her song might be too radical, suggested that when she wrote it, that she wasn’t really sure because she had to look up what the Capitalist System was. After she looked it up, she said, nope, that is exactly what I meant. I wrote this tune while under a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council working with Kentucky folk musician Sue Massek.

Leave the Lights On For Me is a song that I wrote on the day that the CSX railroad announced that it was going to shut down the Clinchfield coal division section of the railroad. I started writing the tune on a train heading to Nashville and finished it up at the hotel. Many of my coworkers were being relocated due to the bust situation in the Appalachian coal regions. This tune represents what I was seeing happening to my friends. It is also an honoring of the rich folk music tradition of the Clinchfield.

How Tomorrow Moves is a CSX railroad slogan and Coal Keeps The Lights On, is the slogan of the coal industries propaganda arm, Friends of Coal. Because our Conductor and Engineer seniority districts cover almost the entire country southeast of the Ohio River, railroaders were being forced to move from places that they had lived for generations. Because of short-sighted union contracts and an aggressive employer, workers were being expected to spend 30 days working for free with the threat of not being able to “hold” a position when they were finished with their territory qualifications. Folks were being expected to “qualify” for upwards of 30 days. No pay.

They Must Be Stopped is a spoken word piece inspired by a conversation between Bill Moyers and Wendell Berry. In the conversation, Mr. Berry recites his poem, “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”. The first line of that poem and the conversation in the video haunted my mind while I was making the decision to walk away from my career as a Locomotive Engineer.

Wendell Berry for some people in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, is kind of like a native plant. I had heard of Mr. Berry and had been around his work for years, but I had never really heard him speak until watching the video on YouTube. Hearing his voice read his work was what attracted me to it, his voice was like many I had heard before. jw

The Vision was inspired by a powerful poem written by Wendell Berry that speaks deeply to my feelings about the earth, in all of its destruction and possibility. Upon meeting Wendell two times at his farm, I was amazed at how comfortable I was sitting with him and his amazing wife Tanya. I enjoyed his simplicity and how he cuts to the quick with no hesitancy or apology.

I looked this poem over and again the words that would become a song came to me and I arranged it without much effort. I usually channel poetry arrangements, but since Wendell is alive and well, I wanted to honor him and what I perceived to be his intention as clearly as I could. I did work on it more than other poems, nonetheless, it pretty much arranged itself.

I tend to select poems, melodies, and arrangements that are complex and a bit gut-wrenching and hard to sing. This one takes a lot of air! It also takes a bit of courage to sing because of the state of the world. I love the harmonies John and I do on this one. db

One of the pictures on the back of the CD is from the visit when we presented our version to Wendell. Jonah and Wendell are standing together looking up the pasture at sheep being called in for the night. Watching Donna sing this song at Wendell’s kitchen table, looking up from my guitar at him listening to our music was wonderful. Wendell loved our version of his poem. jw

International Brotherhood of Contraries local 1 is a spoken word piece inspired by a line in Wendell Berry’s poem, “Contrariness of the Mad Farmer.” There is a section of the poem where a conversation is happening between what seems to me to be two activists having an argument.

When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,

and then went off by myself and did more

than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said

‘go and organize the International Brotherhood

of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing

everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.

Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony

thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what

I say I don’t know.

While I was burning out as a union activist, this poem spoke to me. I can feel the frustration coming from the person who wishes the “mad farmer” wouldn’t be so stubborn. When I first read this poem, I was helping to organize a safety conference in Richmond, California. The conference included railroaders, environmentalists, oil riggers, electricians, dock workers, labor unions, native people and community groups.

The conference was organized to get many folks, who normally don’t see eye to eye on some difficult issues – get them to sit around the table and discover common ground to organize from. The conference was very successful and inspiring.

The “going against men”, seriously resonated with me because of all my work as a Teamster. As a rank and file democratic reformer. Going against men? –  yup  – got it. I have been the single no vote many times. I have heard that thrumming I think Mr. Berry is talking about. My poem … is taking the challenge given. Making sure that thrumming has a voice. I take the caretaking side of union organizing very seriously.

The Princess That I Love was written for Tiécoura Traoré who starred in the film Bamako produced by Danny Glover. Tiecoura was the union leader who tried to save the railroad from privatization in Mali, West Africa.

From Wikipedia:

The film depicts a trial taking place in Bamako, the capital of Mali, amid the daily life that is going on in the city. In the midst of that trial, two sides argue whether the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are guided by special interest of developed nations, or whether it is corruption and the individual nations’ mismanagement, that is guilty of the current financial state of many poverty-stricken African countries as well as the rest of the poor undeveloped world.

 I got an opportunity to host Tiecoura in my home for three days while he was on a speaking tour of the U.S. We talked nonstop about railroading, agriculture, labor unions and politics. I gave him a tour of the rail yard where I was working, and right when we drove into the entrance, right in the middle of a wild conversation, he saw the row of yard locomotives parked and said in his thick African accent, “now, this is the princess that I love!” We both knew what had just happened. We were railroaders. We love it. Who knows why, but we do.

Oh, You Railroad Men is me being really frustrated at my national union president. He is Casey and I am Eugene V. The membership, seemingly most of the time would like to take the radical position, however, the leadership does not. The radical position, in this case, would be to not allow for the railroad to cut the position of the conductor from the train crew and to be more serious about addressing the issues of automation of the railroad.

The Grandsons of Pullman Porters is a loose rewrite of the American folk music classic, “The City of New Orleans”.  While it is romantic to speak of the railroad … I wanted to somewhat expose the railroad for what it is now; the toy of CEO’s, banks and hedge funds.

Much of the story of the railroad in culture, music, art and in railroad poetic metaphor was created by the good old American corporate media. The railroad used to be an important part of everyday life. It was the way people moved, the way agriculture moved, and the industry that built many of the small and large towns that grew up around it. It seems to me, now, being used as a tool to destroy the land, farms, people and communities that are associated with it.

Ride This Train – was written as a campaign song for the work I was doing with Railroad Workers United. We had partnered with an environmental group, The Backbone Campaign, for a conference in Richmond, California. The conference was the start of me realizing that my days were numbered at the railroad.

When I was asked to give the opening remarks at the conference, I knew the atmosphere was going to be tense. Many of the organizations that were invited, in some ways, are at odds with each other. I knew that environmentalists and their organizations have a long difficult history trying to work with labor organizations and vice versa, so, I sought out a solidarity statement from an elder from my community in Kentucky. I knew many environmentalists know who Wendell Berry is. I thought it would be welcoming if the organizer from a railroad labor organization greeted them with words from one of the most respected voices in their community.

Wendell sent via the Berry Center his poem, “The Vision”. While memorizing the poem, I was deeply moved by it. And in further exploration of Mr. Berry’s work, specifically his presentation at Yale University in 2013, I was moved into the position of wanting out of the railroad.

This song is based on the melody of Johnny Cash’s song, “Come On and Ride This Train”.

Old River Blues was written by Riley Coyote of the hobo songwriting collective, The Rail Yard Ghosts. Riley and I talk via phone frequently and collaborate whenever we get the opportunity. In one of our phone conversations, we talked about this song and what I meant to be so lonely, traveling dark places, getting caught by railroad police and then sitting on the banks of the Mississippi nursing wounds.

That is what this song is about.

I have friended many of the folks who ride the rails. It is an honor to be trusted by them; trusted to tell their story in song and verse.

John and Donna Wright

www.railroadmusic.org

railroadmusic333@gmail.com

2017

Special thanks to:

Wendell Berry

Will Oldham

Ron Kaminkow

Sneak Peak of the CD liner notes – Even Further – Tapestry

CD available on Bandcamp October 12th 2017 – CD release thereafter.

Tapestry

Thank You

for supporting our work.

 

The cover photo by Jonah William-Malik Wright

 


Even Further

A Hundred Flowers

Freedom

Songs Are Blue (Jason Eklund)

Dance This Waltz (Joe Hill)

She’ll Never Be Mine (Utah Phillips)

Tapestry

—————————————

The Capitalist System

Leave the Lights On For Me

They Must Be Stopped

The Vision

International Brotherhood of Contraries

The Princess That I Love

Oh, You Railroad Men

The Grandsons of Pullman Porters

Ride This Train

Old River Blues (Riley Coyote RYG)


 

Section 1 – Even Further

 Even Further – was the working title of this project and a poem that was written on the first day of 2015. Donna named the project when we were reviewing the final mixes from LaLa Land Studio.

The poem somewhat was a warning to what might happen if you try to go Further than that. Especially if the folks on the “Further” bus are a nuclear family trying to transverse the winding road of American life post whatever the hell we are supposed to be post of these days.

The CD is in two sections. The first seven selections are songs that Donna and I had been working on when we could find the time to sit down for a minute. That time was not very available. The second section of the CD is why that time was not very available. I was working most of the time, 65+ hours a week as a Locomotive Engineer and on top of that, I was working as a volunteer union/community organizer. Donna was back at the house, homeschooling our son, Jonah.

We were both suffering from severe isolation and I was suffering from overwhelming occupational fatigue. The music was an escape. The CD was recorded in 3 or 4 studio sessions. Most of the second section was recorded on a day when I had already worked a train back from Nashville and had been awake for over 30 hours. The railroad life is historically lonesome and hard. When I got to the studio, I was exhausted and fatigued from a 65-hour work week. I gave the session my all.

Donna and I poured our hearts into this project.

100 Flowers –  is a compilation of poems by two prominent women poets. Emily Dickinson’s “I Never Saw A Moor” is juxtaposed with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “One Hundred Flowers.” The song 100 flowers combines light and shadow, as the vibrancy of Millay’s life and poetry contrasts greatly with the somber mood of Dickinson’s. This song is a celebration of women poets in all their glory and gloom. dw

Freedom – is an honoring of one of the most memorable musical performances that I have ever seen. I saw the Woodstock movie on the screen when I was a young teenager and will never forget the powerful Richie Havens took the stage. The back story of his performance is fascinating. jw

 

As the opening act at Woodstock, Richie Havens was supposed to perform for only 40 minutes. But when an unexpected traffic jam delayed the other performers, organizers asked him to keep playing. Three hours into it, Havens had run out of songs, so he started to make one up to the melody of “Motherless Child,” a spiritual he’d sung as a kid. “I think the word ‘freedom’ came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me,” he said. “I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out.”

 

Songs Are Blue – is a song that I learned while I was on the Joe Hill 100 tour. I met Songwriter, Jason Eklund, in Illinois and he traveled with me for several of the performance dates. This song, to me, is very needed these days. My favorite line is – pink, is for open hands. jw

Dance This Waltz – I heard about a contest where the descendants of Joe Hill, the I.W.W. songwriting organizer, were giving away a gorgeous handmade guitar. Contestants were to take one of his two poems that were found in his apartment while he was imprisoned and facing a death sentence, and put them to music. Since putting poetry to music is my jam, I jumped on it.

I looked at the two poems and knew immediately which song I would do. As usual, I sat down and fiddled on the guitar and the song melody poured out. The words are truly beautiful and I wrote the melody and arrangement at a very lonely time in my life. My husband was working for the railroad and union organizing all the time and I felt very estranged from him.

I was deeply longing for his love and connection. It is a very hard song to sing. It’s filled with a dream of freedom and longing. Joe Hill would be executed before ever dancing that dance or experiencing the etheric magic that he describes, in what can only be a love poem to whoever held his heart at the time. dw

She’ll Never Be Mine – From U. Utah Phillips Starlight on the Rails songbook.

 

This song kind of sums up all these things that happened in the west after the civil war. It’s a boomers song about silver mining, about farming, about cattle ranching, with the recurring refrain, “I guess she’ll never be mine, “but with the final statement, “ I’ve won all my treasures so simple and fine, and I know one day she’ll be mine.”

 

That’s what union organizing or any kind of organizing is supposed to be for: to help working people, no matter what their trades, to reach out toward each other, the sit down together and define their problems, define their solutions, and then to get to work on it and begin to get back some of the wealth that they have created over the years.

 

This is a love song. It’s my love song for the country I come from. I’ve tried to include in it a lot of the ways I know other people feel about it too. bp

 

Tapestry – is a love song I wrote for John Paul at a time when I was very lonely and longing to hold him and look into a future at a beautiful life we might share together. My music is not worked on or written, instead, I get my guitar and receive the song. I usually have something on my mind or a poem before me that then takes flight of its own.

The light and overarching brightness were born when the image of the ancient Egyptian goddess of the sky came into my mind as she was arching over the earth. It reminded me of being protected by an arch, like her body in the ancient paintings; an arch of light and love.

To this song is added a much-loved nursery rhyme, “Donkey, Donkey Old and Grey” that I sang to my son when he was a baby. Finally, “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” is thrown in. Notice how much I love singing the donkey part, as I could not stop singing it in the studio. dw

 

Section 2 – Work Songs

 

The Capitalist System is a song written by Kentucky CIO era union organizer/ songwriter Sarah Ogan Gunning. I changed her original lyrics to match why I also hate the capitalist system. Sarah Gunning when asked if her song might be too radical, suggested that when she wrote it, that she wasn’t really sure because she had to look up what the Capitalist System was. After she looked it up, she said, nope, that is exactly what I mean. I wrote this tune while under a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council working with Kentucky folk musician Sue Massek.

Leave the Lights On For Me is a song that I wrote on the day that the CSX railroad announced that it was going to shut down the Clinchfield coal division section of the railroad. I started writing the tune on a train heading to Nashville and finished it up at the hotel. Many of my coworkers were being relocated due to the bust situation in the Appalachian coal regions. This tune represents what I was seeing happening to my friends. It is also an honoring of the rich folk music tradition of the Clinchfield.

How Tomorrow Moves is a CSX railroad slogan and Coal Keeps The Lights On, is the slogan of the coal industry’s propaganda arm, Friends of Coal. Because our Conductor and Engineer seniority districts cover almost the entire country southeast of the Ohio River, railroaders were being forced to move from places that they had lived for generations.

Because of short-sighted union contracts and an aggressive employer, workers were being expected to spend 30 days working for free with the threat of not being able to “hold” a position when they were finished with their territory qualifications. Folks were being expected to “qualify” for upwards of 30 days. No pay.

They Must Be Stopped is a spoken word piece inspired by a conversation between Bill Moyers and Wendell Berry. In the conversation, Mr. Berry recites his poem, “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”. The first line of that poem and the conversation in the video haunted my mind while I was making the decision to walk away from my career as a Locomotive Engineer.

Wendell Berry for some people in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, is kind of like a native plant. I had heard of Mr. Berry and had been around his work for years, but I had never really heard him speak until watching the video on YouTube. Hearing his voice read his work was what attracted me to it, his voice was like many I had heard before. jw

The Vision was inspired by a powerful poem written by Wendell Berry that speaks deeply to my feelings about the earth, in all of its destruction and possibility. Upon meeting Wendell two times at his farm, I was amazed at how comfortable I was sitting with him and his amazing wife Tanya. I enjoyed his simplicity and how he cuts to the quick with no hesitancy or apology.

I looked this poem over and again the words that would become a song came to me and I arranged it without much effort. I usually channel poetry arrangements, but since Wendell is alive and well, I wanted to honor him and what I perceived to be his intention as clearly as I could. I did work on it more than other poems, nonetheless, it pretty much arranged itself.

I tend to select poems, melodies, and arrangements that are complex and a bit gut-wrenching and hard to sing. This one takes a lot of air! It also takes a bit of courage to sing because of the state of the world. I love the harmonies John and I do on this one. db

One of the pictures on the back of the CD is from the visit when we presented our version to Wendell. Jonah and Wendell are standing together looking up the pasture at sheep being called in for the night. Watching Donna sing this song at Wendell’s kitchen table, looking up from my guitar at him listening to our music was wonderful. Wendell loved our version of his poem. jw

International Brotherhood of Contraries local 1 is a spoken word piece inspired by a line in Wendell Berry’s poem, “Contrariness of the Mad Farmer.” There is a section of the poem where a conversation is happening between what seems to me to be two activists having an argument.

 

When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,

and then went off by myself and did more

than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said

‘go and organize the International Brotherhood

of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing

everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.

Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony

thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what

I say I don’t know.

While I was burning out as a union activist, this poem spoke to me. I can feel the frustration coming from the person who wishes the “mad farmer” wouldn’t be so stubborn. When I first read this poem, I was helping to organize a safety conference in Richmond, California. The conference included railroaders, environmentalists, oil riggers, electricians, dock workers, labor unions, native people and community groups.

The conference was organized to get many folks, who normally don’t see eye to eye on some difficult issues – get them to sit around the table and discover common ground to organize from. The conference was very successful and inspiring.

The “going against men”, seriously resonated with me because of all my work as a Teamster. As a rank and file democratic reformer. Going against men? –  yup  – got it. I have been the single no vote many times. I have heard that thrumming I think Mr. Berry is talking about. My poem … is taking the challenge given. Making sure that thrumming has a voice. I take the caretaking side of union organizing very seriously.

The Princess That I Love was written for Tiécoura Traoré who starred in the film Bamako produced by Danny Glover. Tiecoura was the union leader who tried to save the railroad from privatization in Mali, West Africa.

from Wikipedia:

The film depicts a trial taking place in Bamako, the capital of Mali, amid the daily life that is going on in the city. In the midst of that trial, two sides argue whether the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are guided by special interest of developed nations, or whether it is corruption and the individual nations’ mismanagement, that is guilty of the current financial state of many poverty-stricken African countries as well as the rest of the poor undeveloped world

 

I got an opportunity to host Tiecoura in my home for three days while he was on a speaking tour of the U.S. We talked non-stop about railroading, agriculture, labor unions and politics. I gave him a tour of the railyard where I was working, and right when we drove into the entrance, right in the middle of a wild conversation, he saw the row of yard locomotives parked and said in his thick African accent, “now, this is the princess that I love!” We both knew what had just happened. We were railroaders. We love it. Who knows why, but we do.

Oh, You Railroad Men is me being really frustrated at my national union president. He is Casey and I am Eugene V. The membership, seemingly most of the time would like to take the radical position, however, the leadership does not. The radical position, in this case, would be to not allow for the railroad to cut the position of the conductor from the train crew and to be more serious about addressing the issues of automation of the railroad.

The Grandsons of Pullman Porters is a loose rewrite of the American folk music classic, “The City of New Orleans”.  While it is romantic to speak of the railroad … I wanted to somewhat expose the railroad for what it is now; the toy of CEO’s, banks and hedge funds.

Much of the story of the railroad in culture, music, art and in railroad poetic metaphor was created by the good old American corporate media. The railroad used to be an important part of everyday life. It was the way people moved, the way agriculture moved, and the industry that built many of the small and large towns that grew up around it. It seems to me, now, being used as a tool to destroy the land, farms, people and communities that are associated with it.

Ride This Train – was written as a campaign song for the work I was doing with Railroad Workers United. We had partnered with an environmental group, The Backbone Campaign, for a conference in Richmond, California. The conference was the start of me realizing that my days were numbered at the railroad.

When I was asked to give the opening remarks at the conference, I knew the atmosphere was going to be tense. Many of the organizations that were invited, in some ways, are at odds with each other. I knew that environmentalists and their organizations have a long difficult history trying to work with labor organizations and vice versa, so, I sought out a solidarity statement from an elder from my community in Kentucky. I knew many environmentalists know who Wendell Berry is. I thought it would be welcoming if the organizer from a railroad labor organization greeted them with words from one of the most respected voices in their community.

Wendell sent via the Berry Center his poem, “The Vision”. While memorizing the poem, I was deeply moved by it. And in further exploration of Mr. Berry’s work, specifically his presentation at Yale University in 2013, I was moved into the position of wanting out of the railroad.

This song is based on the melody of Johnny Cash’s song, “Come On and Ride This Train”.

Old River Blues was written by Riley Coyote of the hobo songwriting collective, The Rail Yard Ghosts. Riley and I talk via phone frequently and collaborate whenever we get the opportunity. In one of our phone conversations, we talked about this song and what I meant to be so lonely, traveling dark places, getting caught by railroad police and then sitting on the banks of the Mississippi nursing wounds.

That is what this song is about.

I have friended many of the folks who ride the rails. It is an honor to be trusted by them; trusted to tell their story in song and verse.

John and Donna Wright

railroadmusic333@gmail.com

2017

Glenda Sue Mellick – My Mom

To celebrate Mother’s’ Day, here is a draft chapter from the book I am writing that is about my Mother. The chapter sort of hints to what it was like growing up the son of a radical activist.

The Anti-Apartheid divestment battle of the 1980’s, at the University of Louisville, was organized around my kitchen table. My mother was a 30-year-old college student at the time. She opened our family home to her new-found friends at the University.

The Progressive Student League (PSL) spent many a night, meeting in my home, around our kitchen table. I was in my early teens.

Normal for me was fear of arrest. My mother didn’t talk about that fear, but thinking back on it, and thinking back on what that campaign was … my Mother and her friends were fighting monolithic power and greed. My little brother, sister and me, always in tow to an action. My step-father on call, just in case mom was hauled off to jail.

That was my teenage years. After we won that fight and U of L was forced to divest, my Mother was invited to speak at the United Nations on the issue.

Enjoy this sneak peek of my book ‘Even Further’ – The Red Diaper Diaries and

Happy Mother’s Day! 

Chapter 3 – Glenda the good witch

Every year for my birthday parties in my teens, I would have all my hippie deadhead friends over and we would watch Harold and Maude, the cult movie with the Cat Stevens soundtrack. I loved watching the faces of the new attendees of my parties when the main character in the opening scene shoots himself in the face. My mom, my brother and sister were always part of this party. We were/are a tight-knit bunch. My step father was a signal maintainer for the railroad and was working six days’ home and eight days gone, so … us kids and my mother had two family situations. One when my step-dad was home and one existence that found my mother raising three kids, alone.

Glenda the “good witch,” was the youngest of 12 children – of a Lebanese immigrant who owned a bar on east Jefferson street in Louisville, Kentucky. The bar was very close to one of the oldest housing projects in town and around the corner from the Louisville Outlaws motorcycle gang clubhouse. She was a Lebanese lesbian, Buddhist political activist, who went to school late in life to become a teacher.

She married my first father when she was 19 and had my sister 3 years later and then my brother right before she divorced my beer drinking Germantown Catholic electrician father. My mother fondly would tell stories of my father. I suspect he fell in love with her ethnic beauty and her dark Lebanese eyes. She somewhat described my dad as the guy who swept her off her feet and took her from the bar to their little piece of the American Dream.

My grandfather was a chanter at the Greek orthodox church. I remember sitting in the back of the bar playing with beer caps, making large pyramids with my Grandma. That is about all I can remember. My father remembers the time when he went to meet the elders so he could ask “pop” for my mother’s hand. The old men from the church were always hanging out at grandpa’s bar and my dad tells about eating weird food, Lebanese wine and dancing and swords.

I can only imagine this Germantown catholic boy going down to the beer joint and the ceremony atmosphere of his third world experience. My mother told stories of the little ghosts that would hang in the back room of her home. Pop, Grandpa Mellick, made Feta cheese for the Lebanese community and would hang the cheese to dry in little cheese cloths on a clothes line. She told not so fond stories about as a young girl, working at the Burlap Bag company that had been contracted to make body bags for the Vietnam war.

Pops bar was a beer joint and the family home. He sold beer, rolled oysters and fish sandwiches. I remember mom telling stories about mopping the bar early in the morning and then going to school smelling like fish. Except for pictures, I can’t remember much of this place but through the pictures I have a fond thought of where I come from. Wire frame Coca Cola chairs, a big Wurlitzer juke box, a long stout wooden bar with a big phone booth out front. Grandma Catherine the big German – Baptist Swiss country woman, sitting in the back, at the family table, smoking cigarettes. Her Lebanese gold snake head bracelet wrapped around her wrist.

I can see my Lebanese bartender grandfather wearing an apron. A dark-skinned immigrant owing a bar and raising a large family in a town that was included and not so far removed from the Jim Crow South. He didn’t teach any of his kids how to speak Arabic. My mother told me several times that he didn’t want his kids treated unfairly. Hell, the civil rights war was raging and hipsterly speaking, right? My Grandma Catherine was his second wife. My mother didn’t tell fond stories of watching her mother die of cancer. She did explain to me why she stopped doing her activist work when she got a job teaching.

There is a scene in the Harold and Maude movie when Harold asks Maude about an umbrella that was hanging above a big cabinet filled with musical instruments in her railcar home. Maude tells Harold that the umbrella was something of a remembrance of an old-time when she used to frequent political rallies. The umbrella was used as a defense against thugs and police. My mom said that she, like Maude in the movie, didn’t feel a need after college, to fight the powers that be. She explained that she stopped doing her activist work publicly and continued her activist work quietly with her school kids.

Back when she did, us kids were always in tow. I grew up with her activist friends organizing around our kitchen table and with her new-found lesbian life that would become her divorce from her second beer drinkin’, pot smokin’, pool shootin’ Germantown railroad man. We sang the theme song from Harold and Maude at my mother’s wake. Not to mention we read Joe Hill’s Last Will. So, I guess, I am a red diaper baby. I guess. Hipsterly speaking, right?

I am a city boy except, however and hipsterly speaking, right? I grew up across the street from a forty something acre park that is named George Rodgers Clark Park. It was the Clark family home until the early 1900’s. I spent lots of time reading books next to a very large tree that grew next to where the Clark family situated their spring house. The spring house is gone now however, water still gathers and pools close to the large cypress tree that is majestically still there.

The tree is a massive. A 150-year-old grandfather of a tree. It was at this tree at one point at the other side mania, that I collapsed – in an early morning fog and woke up exhausted and confused. This event, my near death, vision, whatever the hell – my knowing that something was too much to deal with – somewhat spookily, I knew I was way too far out or possibly getting somewhere. I was depressed, mentally exhausted and scared.

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