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

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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

My new position with Railroad Workers United

Two days from now, I officially start my new position with Railroad Workers United.

I will be a contracted organizer …

 

but what they don’t know is that they have hired a KAWA.

 

From what I humbly understand, from my deep study of West African, Guinean village tradition, is that the Kawa is the person who is in contact with the ancestors. The Kawa knows the natural medicines of the area and where they are to be found and is sort of the maintainer of society.

 

Sort of like a peacekeeper.

 

When there are ceremonies and community events happening, the Kawa wanders the crowd making sure people are staying appropriate and respecting the tradition and others.

 

Kind of like the Sergeant of Arms in a union meeting.

 

The video below is one of my favorite all-time YouTube videos. It is a Kawa and his apprentice.

Fadouba Oulare the Djembe player, was a very respected musician. I never had the honor of meeting him, but one of my teachers, Bolokada Conde was very good friends with him.

I take the human side of organizing very seriously. Speaking as someone who has burned out as organizer before – One of the many problems that I see with the labor movement is that they put their apprentices into very powerful positions.

Sometimes organizations expect interns and paid organizers to do way too much internal organizational work. They put people into positions that they’re not ready to fill.

Sometimes that’s OK, however, only if there are patient and loving elders who have tons of experience. Elders who are employed to mentor and challenge strategy that is academic in nature. (that is not to say that all academic study is bad)

The native peoples for centuries solved many of the social problems that We, in the various movements that we are in, are suffering from today. Many native societies had already weeded out the organizational sicknesses that I see today that are originating from corporate thinking … i.e. metrics, performance evaluations, production goals and certain team building cultures.

Those sorts of corporate ideals are evasive and do not belong in structures that are designed to care take human conditions of exploitation, violence and intentional conditions of un-organization. Labor Unions and Community organizations are infested with academic corporate culture and language that is toxic.

In my humble opinion, that is why the AFL-CIO, the UAW and many other community organizations can’t seem to organize the south as well as they would like. They need more Kawas. The organizations need more elders who understand the community and know how to hold it.

The Kawa is sort of the police department. Sort of the internal auditor of the code of culture … the protector of the mission and vision. We need as a society, to re-evaluate and define social policing. Many native societies had already figured that out as well.

more on that later ….

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Folk Labor Desk – What is the #ANTIFA

On this episode of the Folk Labor Desk, John Paul explores several sides of the question – Who is the ANTIFA or the so called “ALT LEFT.”

Reporting from the heart of Central Kentucky – Leitchfield, Kentucky, John Paul gives a little bit of his personal background as well as coins a not so new hashtag for the pundits to talk about while in the confines of their respective social media fox holes and corporate media break rooms …

#TheChildrenOfTheSocialRevolution or

the #CSR

Please share this video with like minded folks. I sure could use your support.  You can support my work by going here and purchasing my music or poetry!

Thanks Y’all

Have a goodin’

John Paul


I spoke to a rock

Enjoy this poem, and if you can, please consider supporting my work. My new poetry book is here, and my music can be purchased from Bandcamp or CDbaby

Thanks y’all! Have a Goodin’

jP


 

I spoke to a rock

sitting in the mountain

stream.

 

Introduced myself.

 

I asked if it had ever

heard the metaphor

 

about its role

in the family.

 

It said no.

 

The rock told about rushing

waters, gully washers

and slowly being pushed

downstream.

 

The rock told of

how it used to

be way up the hill

and how one day –

it hopes to see the river.

 

It asked why I was

visiting, and I told about

my son, who was afraid

to move, about my wife

scared and determined.

 

I told about the railroad

and how my family, mind

and body suffered.

 

The rock told of how

it misses the greater

mountain that

it was a

part of –

 

and how once it fell

down a steep slope

and broke off from

a boulder &

how its edges used

to be pointed and sharp.

 

I told the rock –

I play music and write

about where I used

to work.

 

It asked

about that locomotive

whistle it hears

in the night –

echoing in the hills.

 

I told the rock

that haunting –

eerie, lonesome

sound is an old

tired, worn out

metaphor greatly

used by poets,

writers

and musicians.

 

We sat

quietly

together.

 

I listened to the

waters gently

trickling over

the rocks.

 

When I got up

to leave, the rock

said,

 

come back

someday –

I’ll still be here.

Maybe just a little

further downhill

and a slight bit

smoother.


The Last Poem, At This Table

The last poem
at this table …

Twelve years ago …
this boy was two
and we
moved out
here
on old
plantation
land, close to
Berrytown –

Let us pray …

I sip this coffee
for the last time
rubbing tired hands
nursing a weary mind
looking into a future
out this back window
for the last time.
This place, where
I sat, wrapping boot
laces, worn down,
exhausted but,

proud
to be laboring,
in tradition,
proud to be
taking care of
family.

& now, careful to
not boast that I
am escaping the
plantation.

& like a field
slave, who knew
how to look to the

stars, could
read the code –
I break into the
masters house,
to take my woman
and son, away.

Yet, I wanted to
work here,
build dreams –

my
time,
body
& soul
was
almost
stolen
by
another
man’s
venture.

#railroaded

 

& this place,
fell apart, of
over a decade
not being
able to be here.

I could tell stories
of many a lashing –
isolated lonesome
feelings of being
used –
watching my
friends
raped.

so, what I am
doing –
at this table –
this morning –
is loading up
& taking
all i worked
for, to the
promised land.

The master is
sleeping,
& he will wake
up to find
my wife and
child,
gone!

& yes, i had to
convince
her …

sometimes
she listened to
the other house
slaves who told
of wild men and
woman, planning
an insurrection.
Told, “don’t go –
we have it so
good here.”

(and she,
is the wild one ???
Born of native
blood and spirited
like a wild horse
that has been
tamed by
the deep
dedication
of mothering.)

I, have been called
crazy before …
branded a
traitor …
yet,

(re-learned
the language
of the soil …
became fluent
playing and listening
to the drums speak
when the master
was not looking.
Secretly seeking
council with
elders,
some who
had tried to
leave before
and were to
old to escape
but had
a clear
picture of
where to
run.)
& now, i say
my peace, to
those afraid
to go!
My heart
will always
be with
them …
my work
now,
is to eventually

set them free …

peace be with you …

John Paul

Sunday, July 23rd 2017

Middletown, Kentucky



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I Got My Learnin’ From the L&N – The Best Of JP

This new release is compiling over 12 years of original songwriting that was created while I was employed on the CSX railroad as a conductor and then as a locomotive engineer. Most of the tunes on this collection started out as ideas that were transferred to the blank sides of paper work as I drove a train from Louisville to Nashville.

Railroading can be a poetically romantic job

and is truly an American experience. Writers, poets, reporters and songwriters use the rich metaphors of “the railroad” quite often. I had a wonderful career!  During my long days and lonesome nights, rolling straight down the center of Kentucky, I met some of the most wonderfully resiliant folks!

One of the first questions you get asked when get “hired on” at the railroad is

“What did you do before ya come out here?”

This question for me, was sort of difficult to answer. Well …. I was an Artistic Director of a Christian Arts organization slash Dishwasher slash African Djembe player slash community organizer. I brought all those experiences and more to a new job. Not only was this a job, I was being introduced to a way of life and

a culture that has its own music, language, history and long held traditions.

I like to say that If Americana was a quilt, then railroad themed music is the thread. The word “qwirk” is an old term used to describe a person’s unique stitch in a quilt. So trust me “the railroad” has its quirks about it.

The tunes are mostly in the folk music style of G,C and D. “I throw in an F to impress the girls,” I believe Hank Williams Sr. said that. My father Joe Wright suggests that Jimmie Rodgers tunes are supposed to be played in C, so… strum accordingly.

I wanted to throw a few tunes out there and tell the stories behind them. Please check out the tunes below individually on Bandcamp for desciptions and photos. Folk musicians are somewhat part reporter, part historian and part folklorist. That is what I love about folk music! There are big stories behind the tunes and the stories are important.
If you would like a hard copy of this CD please send 12 dollars via Paypal to railroadmusic333@gmail.com

Don’t forget to leave your address in the note section provided by PayPal

Thanks Y’all and have a goodin’

JP