Union and Poverty

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Union

Don’t Mourn, Organize!
And this is the motto, I live by. And while some wish to cry a tear in their beer for the labor movement. I left the tavern drunk, with clearer vision. And hypocrisy exists in everything we as a people do. Corruption at the top is troubling as hierarchies we humans create! Sometimes out of innocence and sometimes to over power the minority.

An Injury To One, Is An Injury To All
and I will never throw the baby out with the bath water, however, It seems to me, some labor to become too big for their britches! My job was to sing my heart out. And I did, and now I am sitting back, watching strategy and waiting out the storm. I am in it for the long haul, slogans and rhetoric mean nothing when two piece suits take the place of jeans and bandanas.

A Fair Day’s Wage, For A Fair Day’s Work 
is the slogan of incrementalists. The words of those who partner with the machine! Now we are at war with terror. Slaves of many an industry that own our governments – tied us to a global supply chain that is wrecking our waters, land, minds and bodies.

Too Radical!
I have been called out of bounds as heartfelt suffering all about cedes to power. A big picture haunts stares into a new bright morning. Once i let that weigh heavy on my spirit. Utopian labels thrown all around as we are asked to pray it all away, wait for cities of gold and kisses from a heavenly father, while children play games with endtime themes, exposed to all sorts of enticement.

So …
to my friends in the movements, let this be my letter tacked onto the door of the labor temple. Right? But let us not stop there, I have been to the mountaintop. And yes, this may be that I told you so moment, but Don’t Mourn, Organize. There are too many working on the same issues, expecting us at the bottom to show up, to, too many of your parties.

And …
like that guy, who wrote the letters to the churches, he was a reformer who paid the piper. So was Thoreau, and so it goes for Vonnegut, and all our people who saw an injustice and sought to expose, muckrake, agitate. Look up a ton of Sinclair! There is no need to reinvent the wheel! We’re gonna roll the union on, sang my hero. Woody to Joe Hill! When faced with death, Joe said, “ready, aim, fire.” like Jesus said, forgive them dad, they know not what they do. They were martyred in the mythical by and by.

So therefore be it resolved …
I do not mean to make this all about me! This is universal … I am just the workhorse of the Animal Farm. The moral of the story! A Sitting Bull, waiting for a brighter day! Just us like many who come to these shores … yet, native in sympathetic resonance. Solidarity Forever like Sacagawea, like York, like a Wovoka. Dancing around a narrative like a trailblazer for you to someday discover!

And further …
If you really need a hint, like a ghost dancing away from this American Life, like a TED talking head speaking in Direct Action! Ask me about Black Elk! Ask me questions! I am spinning in circles like Rumi. My songs tell the story! I am blacklisted, like John Henry, red baited and already dyed in the wool! Ready to break them shears and the windows too. I live to set fire to Foster’s Mill.

“Siri, what’s a luddite?”


Poverty

On the corner of Bardstown Road and Grinstead, I see people flying cardboard signs. Sometimes all four corners are taken by people in need of something. I don’t judge. The day my front tooth fell out, my cap in need of care, I, out of pocket, a single payer, paid money borrowed from my sister. Last week, twice, money came in for me. I was broke! Down to my last dime. I let go and let whatever you want to call it work as it may.

On the off ramp from I-64 daily, I see people flying cardboard signs. Who knows their story, really? I do not judge. I left a good job in the city because that job was killing my soul. We choose to lose to gain freedom in return. And I worry!  Worry about my son and his health. I worry about mine. Most of us are one paycheck away from failure. I worry about my loving partner and her darkness. It takes a worried man to sing, a worried song in sickness and in health.

On the street, before Derby, a whole line of homeless people were living under the expressway, living in filth, Shining Like The Sun! They were removed. Some jailed! But they will be back. Some of them probably are mentally ill. But who is to say? I understand why some choose to not participate in this unreasonable economy of decadent and depraved want. I do not judge! I do worry that we will always have the poor with us. I worry that hate and violence are a disease. I wonder who cares, really?

And poverty is as poverty does. I was raised at times in what some would label as broke. I sought help from the church, the government and family. I got a job and then quit! I was institutionalized and then bounced up from a darkness that engulfed my life. I do not judge! Mental illness can strike at anytime … sometimes as fast as a spring thunderstorm or as fast as railroad cars coming off the rail. Sometimes, I don’t feel like working on Maggie’s Farm no mo! Either!

I am poor now, and happy! Worried yes. I have friends whom I can trust, family if need be. Some people do not have any of that! Some are so alone that they die. Some choose to quit this obnoxious theft … so called society, global economy and local investment. Some see right through the green community, sustainable rhetoric liken the rose colored glasses of institutionalized dreamers. I do not judge! I am worried. Worried enuf to care. Sometimes so worried …

I can’t look to read the signs.

I already know what they say.

Help!
And do not judge!
You could be me
and I could be You!

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A self inflicted fake Rolling Stone interview:

What are you going to do with your work that you created while at the railroad?

Well, I am sitting on an entire folder of union campaign songs and heaps of poetry that I never recorded or released. Part of the problem seems to be that the people who should be able to figure out what i did while documenting an American Folk working experience, seem to me to be not willing to allow me to tell the story.

Are you bitter about that?

Well, I was getting pretty frustrated with that, i’ll admit especially with the unions and people who are at the top of the heap who do have the connections.

I have several friends who struggle seriously with making a career out of folk music. But, we folk musicians historically struggle and suffer from serious life troubles. and I am in pretty good company. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joe Hill, Utah Phillips, Anne Feeney …

they all had to suffer serious life struggles to get their stories and ultimately the stories of the people past the iron curtain of the music industry.

Why the curtain?

Well, the powers that be would rather they tell the story.

What is the story?

People are human and humans are difficult and do not have a one size fits all package. You can’t shrink wrap folk music and give it a category. People at the bottom are difficult, crass, mad, pissed and work like dogs and are being treated like shit by the people at the top.

and most creative people see a darkness in this world and have this certain calling that makes them want to tell the world how to bring light out of that darkness. I think this is why most creative people suffer some sort of mental illness.

Didn’t you write about that in your book, The Table?

Yes, I told stories about the people i knew back in my twenties when i was suffering from clinical bipolar disorder. I mentioned several of my friends who lost their battle with that darkness.

What seems to me to be the case is creative people, writers, musicians and the like all seem to live somewhere just over the line between dark and light.

What were you doing on the railroad?

Well, working my ass off and experiencing things most people never get to experience. and, doing what folk musicians are called to do. Tell the story.

What is something folks do not get to do?

Hit a person at 50 MPH and hear that sound 10 years later. I co-wrote a song about that with a conductor. The song speaks to how railroaders deal with trespasser fatalities.

Why do you continue to do folk music when you seem to be frustrated and do not seemingly get the respect you think some folk musicians should?

Well, ask a pastor of a church how they feel when the pews are all filled on Easter Sunday and then empty two weeks later. That is how folk musicians operate. It’s a calling.


 

Chapter 2 / Before N.Y.C

Chapter 2 – Before N.Y.C

When I posted chapter 1 on my blog, a person who I had been chatting with on Facebook showed an interest in this story. She called herself a “red diaper baby.” A red diaper baby is a kid raised by a political activist and I suspect I am one of those. She also mentioned that she thought the blogpost post showed “moral courage.” I asked her what she meant by that and she said it was courageous to be openly talking about mental health issues.

We chatted a bit and somewhere in the digital exchange, I mentioned my wife. I always mention my wife, especially if I am chatting over the internet with a woman. I also mentioned my mother, thusly the red diaper comment. My mother was my rock and moral compass. I told her that my mother was a political activist. My Facebook friend, wanted to hear more about my mom, Glenda the good witch.

My mother was the reason I ended up in the care of Central State mental hospital on a three-day self-imposed mental inquest warrant and property of the state of Kentucky. I freaked out. I yelled at her and accused her of brandishing a weapon. I left the house, I guess you could say I ran away to the loony bin by way of a teepee.

I had been living in her basement for a year, slowly slipping into a deep dark depression. I was suffering from the breakup of a two-year relationship. My life was collapsing. My girlfriend, who I had met at the food co-op where I was working several months before, cheated on me with a friend in our circle. I was also suffering heart problems.

My heart was skipping beats. Panic attacks were a daily event. Every day I walked across the park, that was my 46-acre front yard as a child, and go to the store and buy tons of junk food. I ate tons of sugar and tons of salt and then went home and slept for hours. My body was rebelling. I was getting fat and more and more in my head.

I was reading, listening to music and sleeping for hours on end. Sometimes upwards of eighteen. I was reading the Sufi books that I had been turned on to by the manager of the food co-op. I was reading Black Elk Speaks and a book with speeches from Native American Chiefs called Touch the Earth.

I was a young hippie, deadhead. The medicine man manager at the co-op, the teepee connection, had turned me onto a Sufi guru from Philadelphia named Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. I was deeply getting into the Sun Ra that he had turned me on to. I was listening to Sun Ra and reading all his poetry on the CD covers and starting an impressive Sun Ra collection.

Bawa’s books are deep! The idea of killing my self was on my mind, but not that kind of killing. I was deeply thinking about who I was. My friendship with my long-haired hippie herbal Sufi manager was deep. He is a very humble person and was always saying something that I thought was something I needed to think about.

Sun Ra, well, ifin you ain’t never heard of Ra, best be firing up that Google machine. My little trip up the river of life was starting to come to a delta. All my problems seemed to be rushing in on me. Over the course of eight months I had gained one hundred pounds. Something was going to break.

One morning, after one of those long dark days and nights in the basement, I had a crazy audible hallucination. I thought I heard my mother run through the house and get her .38 and pull the trigger back. I ran up the basement steps and told her that I had had enough. Then after a short freak out. I left.

She would not let me come back. She had had enough and didn’t know what to do. I am sure she was hurt, terrified and lost as to why her little Johnny, was so sick in the head. I didn’t have a plan as to what I was going to do. I was ready for some help. Several of my friends were on the crazy check. I knew that was an option. However, I didn’t think that I was that kind of crazy, so, I phoned a friend.

The friend owned a delightful home out in the south end of Louisville, had a nice family, who were then celebrating Thanksgiving. He drove all the way across town and picked me up from the Walgreens drug store where I had called him from a payphone. I stayed in his backyard teepee overnight. He built a fire. I had a big plate of food.

We talked about me being nuts and then, after a long night rearranging all the dirt, sticks and staring at the fire burn, I knew I needed help. I was not going to get this crazy out. I got a ride downtown and somehow ended up getting ready to have the meeting with the woman who handed out gum at the co-op, who was the mother of the young woman, who set up that table on Christopher Street that you were reading about a minute ago.


 

The Table – A Reading at Surface Noise Records


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.

The Cottonwood Local


The Cottonwood Local started out as a noodlin’ in the key of D on the mandolin.

When I would get off of my train, I would spend time sitting on the front porch of the Holiday Inn in Nashville playing my mandolin. Mostly people watching. I lived at the Holiday Inn in Donelson, Nashville, TN for 14 years. This was what we railroaders called the Away From Home Terminal.

One day when I was pickin’ …

A Locomotive Engineer friend of mine suggested we needed a song about a local job that we had on the CSX Mainline called the J765-J768. I already had the fiddle tune going when he made this suggestion and we sat there joking about all the crazy stuff about the job. My friend suggested the Cottonwood name because the two trainmen working the job at the time were Josh Cotton and Joe Woods, thusly, Cottonwood.

There were a host of Locomotive Engineers working the job, but mostly the ones holding the position were old heads. The job was a good one and it always went high on the seniority roster. A local is a job that does not work the entire length of the railroad. It does industry work and then either goes home, or in the case of the Cottonwood, stays overnight in a town like Bowling Green and works its way home the next day. Usually with a day off. My favorite Engineer, A.T Robb was one of the many characters who held the throttle on the local.

Artie, Atrimous Robb, RT, that’s me … had many nicknames. The reason he “tied it down in Shepheardsburg from the Main Line Friendly Local”, was because he retired and lived on some property out in Shepherdsville. He called the job the MLFL, Main Line Friendly Local and it stuck. On the engine, we called it the Main Line “Fuckin’ Local.

Mr. Robb called the railroad signal in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, Sheep Herds Burg. Why? Know body knows. We didn’t know why he would bring jugs to get what was left in the tank cars when we would pick up the empties from the Jim Beam Distillery. He said the white/clear alcohol was good with sugar and Kool-Aid, but it made his tractor run hot.

This song is somewhat a native language

that only exists in a time and place called the railroad.

In Kentucky.

It is a Kentucky folk song in a sense, that the people that are being mentioned have a place in the folk history of the people involved, now, especially, that the stories are folk tales and memory, it has slipped into history.

“Too bad Pauline’s ain’t around no more …” is bringing up Kentucky History about Bowling Green, Kentucky that is a deep legend. Not to mention history some folks do not want to talk about and would rather forget.

Pauline’s was a whore house. A bordello. A house of il’ repute. She closed her doors in the early 1970’s and moved away.. Get to talking about Pauline’s to almost any man from the region over the age of 70 and you will see a twinkle in their eye as thoughts of that place come bubbling into their blood. We had a railroad van driver out of Bowling Green who used to work for Pauline. He hated George McCubbins and the feeling was mutual. George was an Engineer on the local and either ya liked him, or ya hated him. He was the boss of the job or at least that is what he thought.

“You know, we know you got a lot of work to do,” came from another Engineer who worked the local from time to time. G.W. Haynes. Gross Weight. He was a very big man and sometimes not very nice. He came with loads of nicknames and his reputation preceded him. The song lyric means the local job will clear the mainline when trains need to get through. The working nature of the local meant that the mainline would be blocked when the local was out pulling or placing cars from the industries that it worked. Crews on the local would try and be in the clear for the “Big Boy’s.” Some just wanted to get their work done and get to the other side of the road or get the day over with and didn’t really care if mainline trains would have to wait for them to clear up … “get in the hole.”
.
“Memphis Junction,” is the name of the railyard in Bowling Green, Kentucky where the job ended its southbound work. Back in the day, the L&N had a mainline that went all the way to Memphis, TN. Toby Asher was the mainline trainmaster who worked in Bowling Green at this yard. The “only regular job” lyric comes from the job having regular start times. Having a regular start time is the perk of a local job and this job would get pulled off from time to time thusly the jab of it being the only regular job he could find.

Toby was a strange guy. He was the boss. Somewhat spookily he would be somewhere on the mainline, at all times, day and night. He is the kind of boss the railroad generally doesn’t like. He knows how to railroad. And that term railroad means many things. He lived and breathed railroading. His father was a Switchman and he grew up admiring his father’s work buddies. He loved the railroad and had respect for his “men.” Love is not an easy word to define on the railroad. Respect for craft is something the railroad seemingly has totally forgotten about.

This song is a fragment of time and place that has mostly slipped into folk history. It was an honor to work the section of rail known as the L&N, Louisville to Nashville, Main Stem. The L&N railroad at one time was the largest railroad in the eastern part of the United States. This song comes from the namesake of that railroad. The L&N, Kentucky, known today as the CSX Railroad.

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Pauline Tabor

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Me and Van Driver Jimmy. Pauline’s cab driver back in the day.

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A.T. Robb

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Railroad Tag

 

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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Sunday Morning Alone Time Meeting Minutes – 12/10/2017 – Linkin’ Bridge Click

Sunday Morning alone time
meeting minutes – 12/10/2017
 
Call to order at 7:39 a.m.
 
John Pawl in attendance with myself and I.
 
Financial report: Almost broke!
 
Old Business:
 
I woke this morning with way too much on my mind. My son next to me, sleeping – covered him, gave him a kiss and walked down the stairs with an old friend on my mind.
 
 
and this old business, is because, I am warning y’all – this man has a stare quite like mine. And he will figure out what ever y’all throw at him. We used to roll together. and the hood is where he is from. I know, cause i used to pick him up ever day when we was PNEUMA kids. We was the black sheep, the bad news bears and the red headed step kids all rollin’ together … and we used to sing in the van – i taught him old bluegrass gospel harmonies – the stanley brothers – bill monroe – while we was learnin’ all that shit from Sweet Honey in the Rock … and
 
That blank stare is street smarts. Aware of your surroundings, like something is bout to go down, a vision of what just might be lurking in the future – I learned my version of that blank stare while we was rollin’ …
 
To the chicken joint to pick him up after work, roll past Whitey’s in the 32 duce ward, roll past the Washburns, over to the Wright’s and then roll all the way out to Newburg, roll downtown, and then over to Arturo’s little Mexico – where the immigrants were, over by the race track.
 
We would roll over to Smoketown, to 420f and pick up John and Cleo, and whoever else was still around from Smoketown, Shepherd’s Square … roll over to Portland to pick up the twins and their sisters – I got my blank stare from knowing what was going on in their house, with their mother … who died from aids – and we would roll …
 
Rolling past places where drive by’s happened the day before, was gonna happen soon, it was 1994,95,96 – 2001 – and we joined a gang together – a gang led up by a little woman with a big heart – she was employed by Jesus and we were her Pigeons. Bird Men … 
 
Her blank stare, was from her knowing all of us kids, were one step away from jail, the crazy house, the food stamp office, detention … being exploited, abused, victims of horrendous violence, innocents being lured in by gangs, drugs, prostitution
 
some of us, possibly one step away from death.
 
I got my blank stare, from the streets! From a glock 9 held to my head at 32nd and Kentucky … from saving the little girl who was molested by her uncle. I got my street smarts from all the air brushed RIP shirts I saw from all the cousins, relatives and friends who died from gun violence, neglect, drugs and … from representin’ …
We rolled all day, in a hot as hell van! In the worst summers in this town! No air conditioning – real hot boys – sweat pouring down our backs, looking out for our kids – our friends, sisters – brothers, bling bling, pinky ring worth about 50 – the van boppin’ to B96 – You don’t know nann – Back that ass up – call me big daddy – is where I get my blank stare of worry from – listening to them little girls sing and those little boys … being exploited by a music industry … that … 
 
and this ain’t no joke! for real – this is for my dog China AKA Shon AKA Lacy Aka the Southwick kid, AKA
 
The choral director of PNEUMA.
 
Back in the day.
 
New Business …
 
Y’all know me
and my poetry
I am JP …
The human beat box
with a million watts
of power … playin’
juba in his head …
The Railroad Man
The Djembe’ player slash
community activist
griot –
family man
shoulda been a preacher.
 
My blank stare is
love and worry
born of –
a mindfulness
informed from
the streets and
verified authentic
by my brother
Alonzo Johnson!
He is a peacemaker.
 
We got our blank stare
from God and in the
same van … rollin’ the
streets of Louisville
when nobody
wanted to admit
they were on fire.
 
Meeting Adjourned
8:25 a.m

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