The Interview starts at about 15 minutes in …
The Interview starts at about 15 minutes in …
20170601 – The Garden
Did you ever wonder why
Jesus went to the garden?
He was probably depressed –
and sick and tired of
not just the system,
but sick of it all!
He was probably pissed
that the souls of men –
were so greedy –
he was probably pissed
that prostitution –
and poverty walked
hand in hand …
the man of few words –
in the world
of nature –
where birds sing and bees
hop flower to flower –
he went on
he stopped for
a moment …
called his Dad,
She was watching
her son die!
She was by his side
proud of her son –
worried sick –
most of the time.
his partners –
his board –
the ones who
after he was gone,
would get it wrong …
do what he told them
not to do-
build churches so big –
throw stones –
ask me –
hair is long …
are my heroes.
( – If there is a criminal element
I am of it – if there is a soul in prison – )
power and greed –
ask why when
I was a child –
i cried when they
told me Jesus
died because of me.
the holy ghosts
dancing – ask
ask me about Debs
and John Brown –
ask about the
and why i would
rather play music with
children or be a
to the ones who
everyone else warned,
( – listen to the birds they will
teach you what they know – )
ask about Rumi
ask about Sufi
ask – why I heard
( – Allah and Buddha
were singing at the savior’s feast! – )
and now –
in this moment
i and you
are here now.
and his flight
to the garden
and his river
and the mustard
seed, and science
and matter –
it’s all the same!
We are stardust…
and a reflection
is just an image.
The Kentucky Derby is a corporation –
like the coal companies and Japanese
bourbon barrel barons & back in the
old days – was only a week-long festival …
– And I am sure,
Y’all are squeamishly hoping this
rant will end on a good note, like the house
slave that wants to get a good night’s rest –
comfortably in the quarters – “Y’all darkies
are supposed to be gay.” “Y’all know,
Papa gots his friends over an’ we
ain’t supposed to be talking about his
whips and all his tax breaks!”
The Kentucky Derby is as stupid
as full grown adults, waiting around
the fireplace, cookies placed and waiting
for Santa to come and leave big box warehouses
and nice new auto plants under the tree. And when
one of his beasts of burden, breaks its leg –
you wake the kids to help Santa shoot it
in the head.
The Kentucky Derby is a golden
cash cow worshipped, like the military air show
that runs up and down the Ohio river – while
the Belle of Louisville and our streets are
prostituted out to Masters of War and commerce –
we are supposed to be nice, like the bourbon
“Bonded” like the small-neighborhood family parties.
“Branded” like the jockeys exploited for profit –
like how the “green” justifies the horse shit
and the mint sprig, the alcoholism of the aggressor,
the audacity of gambling and gaudy hats of
The Kentucky Derby is a waste
of time because when this is all over,
your gonna wake up with a bad taste in your mouth,
praying that when you blacked out, you were not date
raped by your boss or fondled by one of
his frat boys, while his friends – standing
over – laughing and drunk –
money falling out of
their pockets – paid your friends
to hush up
But, don’t worry – It is what it is –
Y’all come out smelling like roses!
When Woody Guthrie wrote –
This Machine Kills Fascists –
on his guitar,
he was a volunteer in the
The tool I am using now –
to write these words –
was made in China.
A Communist country
that has embraced
When we had the
Good Neighbor Food CO-OP –
we had several 18 wheelers –
and a Federation of Ohio River Cooperatives –
we made our own distribution.
Kroger grocery is Union,
(so, was Woody’s boat)
and we were ordered
to compete and destroyed
because our services,
were a threat.
Now, look down at your
feet, past that pixilated tool
and those shoes made
by slave labor –
and tell me how many
lithium batteries you have
thrown away, into the Earth –
that we all are spinning on.
And like this we go
around and around …
– ring around the rosies
a pocketful of posies –
– ashes to ashes
fall down –
Making the decision to walk away from a sixteen year career at a major class one railroad was not easy. The “fragment of a speech” that is posted below was one of the turning points that greatly fueled my decision to leave a place that in some ways, was a place that I very much enjoyed working.
When I first heard this “fragment,” I was brainstorming for a conference that the organization Railroad Workers United was hosting in Richmond, California. As the national organizer, my task was to welcome many organizations, many that do not normally work together, to an environmental conference to find common ground on very complex issues of public safety, working conditions and labor.
The inspiration that I found from this “fragment” was a question that I had to ask myself over and over for about two years.
How complicit do I want to be?
After watching the video many times I wanted to find the book that the speech came from and couldn’t find it, So, from the YouTube video, I typed out the “speech” that Mr.Berry gave at Yale University word, by word and in the process, was deeply moved.
I later contacted Mr. Berry to ask him where I could find this “speech” in print, and sent the words that I had lifted from the YouTube video. He sent his book, Our Only World, with a note explaining that the Yale presentation was “fragments” found within the pages of the book.
The opening statement “that we are all complicit in its violence,” really was the haunting thought that fueled my decision to leave driving trains for a living behind. I found myself not wanting to participate in the destruction of Our Only World.
I found myself not wanting to drive military trains, fertilizers and GMO poisoned soybeans and corn. I found myself not wanting to haul coal, oil, fracking sand and waste. I also found myself not wanting to be exhausted mentally, and physically from the excessively long hours and harsh working conditions. And …
After the railroad that I was working for completely cut the union out of the safety conversation, I found myself not wanting to participate in a violent relationship that included a one-sided behavior based safety working environment.
I enjoyed my union work,
and the folks I worked with. I will miss the many wonderful people who I had the honor of working with for sixteen years of my life. I will in my music and poetry, continue to tell of my passion for the place I labored that is simply called the railroad! I will continue to care about what happens on the rails and will be inspired by what the railroad could be …
Since the California conference in 2015, I have twice had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Berry in his home. I have come to find myself deeply inspired by his work, deeply moved by his poetry and looking forward to a new life away from a haunting question rolling around in the back of my mind.
Below is the fragment of a speech that inspired me so deeply.
For more information about Wendell Berry go here.
The Industrial Economy From Agriculture To War – A Fragment Of A Speech
Wendell Berry – Introduction to the Yale Chubb Lecture Discussion. 12-07-2013
The industrial economy from agriculture to war is by far the most violent the world has ever known and we are all complicit in its violence. The history of industrialization has been violent from the start, as the Luddites quickly learned. The purpose of labor-saving technology has always been to cheapen work by displacing workers, thus increasing the flow of wealth from the less wealthy to the more wealthy.
It is a fact, one we have never adequately acknowledged or understood, that at the end of World War II, industry geared up to adapt the mechanical and chemical technologies of war to agriculture and other ways of using land. At the same time certain corporate and academic leaders known collectively as the committee for economic development decided that there were too many farmers.
The relatively self-sufficient producers on small farms needed to become members of the industrial labor force and consumers of industrial commodities. Reducing the number of farms and farmers became a devastatingly effective national policy.
The first problem of a drastic reduction of the land using population is to keep the land producing in the absence of the people. The committee for economic development and their allies were fully aware of this problem and they had a ready solution. The absent people would be replaced by the mechanical and chemical technologies developed for military use and subsisting upon a seemingly limitless bounty of natural resources mainly, ores and fuels.
Agriculture would become an industry. Farms would become factories like other factories ever more automated and remotely controlled. Industrial land use became a front in a war against the living world. And so with a few exceptions the free market was allowed to have its way.
Finally, nearly all of the land using population have left their family farms and their home places and moved or commuted into the cities to be industrially or professionally employed or unemployed and to be entirely dependent upon the ways and the products of industrialism.
This process of eliminating the too many farmers still continues. Nobody ever said how many were too many. Nobody ever said how many might be actually necessary. Even so, to remove the farmers from farming required of shift of interest from husbanding the fertility of the land to burning the fossil fuels with consequences so far less famous than terrifying.
But there was another problem that the population engineers did not recognize then and have not recognized yet. Agricultural production without land maintenance leads to exhaustion. Land that is in use, if the use is going to continue, must be used with care and
care is not and can never be an industrial product or an industrial result.
Care can come only from what we used to understand as the human heart – so-called because it is central to human being. The human heart is informed by the history of care and the need for care also by the heritage of skills of caring and of care-taking.
The replacement of our displaced rural families by technologies derived from warfare has involved inevitably a supposedly acceptable and generally accepted violence against land and people. By it we established an analogy between land use and war that has remained remarkably consistent ever since.
The common theme is a terrible pragmatism that grants an automatic predominance of the end over the means. The sacrifice of land and people, to the objective of victory, domination, security or profit. In oblivion or defiance of moral or natural law that may stand in the way. All of our prevalent forms of land use which is to say – land use minus care produces in addition to commercial products, massive waste and destruction.
War is politics minus neighborly love plus technological progress which makes it – ever more massively wasteful and destructive.
There is in fact no significant difference between the mass destruction of warfare and the massive destruction of industrial land abuse.
In order to mine a seam of coal in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, we destroy a mountain, its topsoil and its forest with no regard for the ecosystem or for the people downhill, downstream and later in time. The difference between explosion in the coal fields, and the erosion in the corn and soybean fields is only that erosion is slower. The end, the exhaustion of nature’s life supporting systems is the same.
The Ballad of Joe Hill
Pete Seeger ->
Wendell Berry –>
The Other Ones ->
Drums -> Space is the Place ->
Ken Kesey ->
Brett Eugene (hobo) Ralph ->
Uncle John Gage’s Band
enc. Anne Feeney
I am writing this chapter about two months after I quit working for the railroad. I suspect I shouldn’t leave without an EVEN FURTHER, explanation. I was inspired to write this last doo hickey of a word play because I visited with a fine man yesterday and read to him a chapter of my unfinished book. I seriously respect this man, his work, heart and writing.
He is in the greater story. At one point, back in my manic days of the 1990’s, I think in Lowell, Massachusetts, at the Kerouac event, we bumped into each other. The Rant event, the one with the crazy ride with a bone man, when I was manic as fuck, and a real burning man.
Brett Ralph. At some point, we shared a shot of bourbon at a party. I remember a hotel room and it being dark. I was sitting on the floor and this really big dude was standing above me. He was laughing like the man from lake, the Iron John of a dude, that he is. That guy. I went to his new record store Surface Noise, yesterday, and read the chapter about the crazy folks that I feel massive solidarity with. He knew some of them. The Brotherhood of Contraries.
I stole that line and chapter title from a Wendell Berry, Mad Farmer poem, rather, I borrowed it. See, hipsterly speaking, right … The first time I was invited to visit with Wendell, I had some conversation with Utah Phillip’s widow before the meeting by the river. I told her I was visiting with Mr. Berry and asked her what I should ask him. She suggested to ask him if Gary Snyder was ever in the I.W.W. I suspected this was a trick question.
When I got a chance to ask him about Mr. Snyder, Mr. Berry leaned back in his rocking chair and said, “well then,” and said he was not sure about that. We talked briefly about it and in conversation, he contemplated that he didn’t think the I.W.W was around anymore. So, I showed him my red card.
After I sang one of my songs, Mr. Berry was very entertained and happily said, “’yep, you sure can sing!” So, hipsterly speaking, right? I guess that was good enough for me? … That experience found me talking with Utah’s son Duncan Phillips again. He mentioned that he read a Wendell Berry poem at Utah’s funeral.
So, a button on your shirt, and, before I wrote this book, I had not a clue who Ed McClanahan was. I found a paperback that my father in law had of Ed’s just recently and read it. I recently read Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Except the girls and the fishing trip …been there done that and got the T-shirt.
After reading my chapter, Brett suggested that I have my voice and that he was intrigued by the story. He encouraged me to keep working on the book. I trust Brett, he teaches English at a Kentucky College! I trust that he was giving good critical voice to my chapter. Sometimes, I must wonder why I am doing this … I am a folk musician, not a writer, captin’.
I am somewhat aware that being a writer is a way of life. and, you can start sentences with and. And further and however, hipsterly speaking, right? Wallace Stegner is a chump! He got the whole Joe Hill story wrong! His research for his books on Joe Hill was, in my humble opinion, sloppy. His life works, and activism? Mind-blowing and something to not shake a stick at.
I recently made a new electronical friend in a photographer from the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. He has made it his work to prove that Mr. Stegner did Joe Hill the union organizer, a disservice. Not to mention, basically threw an academic nose up to the I.W.W when they called him out on his bullshit. So, me being the devout Sun Ra follower that I am, have this to suggest …
First, if you didn’t RFD (read the fucking directions) the first time – I suggest firing up that google machine, look up Sun Ra, then second, apply this thinking to Joe Hill, the labor myth.
“If I am telling a lie, they have to judge whether the lie is more profitable to them than the truth that they know.”
Sun Ra said that fragment of his thinking in the movie, “Make a Joyful Noise.” And, the reason I started this chapter like a Grateful Dead bootleg, was because the connective thread that seems to be my personal teaching moment from this writing experience has been – Wallace Stegner. It is more profitable to me, as a person who very much understands the power of myth, that Joe Hill remain the labor hero that he is.
It is very cool that Joe Hill’s family and the family of the man who they accused Joe Hill of shooting got a chance to meet on the 100th year after Joe was murdered. It is also very cool that my electronical friend has made this story close to his heart. I suspect one day, my photographer friend and I will meet in person. That’s exactly how Joe Hill works. The Power of the Union …
I wrote the suggestion, Even Further on my car with a boxcar moniker paint stick, a couple of years ago when I started this journey. I am not sure why I was moved to do so. I was following my bliss. I was doing what Joseph Campbell suggested. I was in my sacred place, doing what I do. I was being – in. Listening to the voices of elders. I made Anne Feeney the encore of the bootleg, for this purpose … I wanted to tell just one more story before I considered this book finished.
Once upon a time, in Chicago at a Labor Notes convention, an Appalshop Documentary by Anne Lewis & Mimi Pickering was shown. The movie is called Anne Braden: Southern Patriot. When I saw it in Chicago, it was one of, if not the first public showing of the film.
I was sitting right next to Anne Feeney for this showing. To make a long story short. I knew Anne Braden was important, but, after that film, I was blown away. Somewhere in the middle of the film, I went outside to call my mother. I walked out to the hotel parking lot to get some alone time at a very bustling convention to tell my mother that in the film they had documented the work we did back in the Anti-Apartheid days at the University of Louisville.
My mother, was tired, fighting cancer, and couldn’t talk. She wanted to … but told me that she needed to rest. She told me to have a good time and to be careful, and that we would be able to talk about it when I got home. I broke down. Cried like a baby, snot running from my nose…weeping. and then went back inside to watch the end of the film. This was the first time that I as a man, thought that my mother was going away – soon, going to be gone. That thought, killed me.
Anne Feeney, saw my tears, heard my voice when I briefly mentioned after the film, in the open discussion period, that I was from Louisville. We walked out of the presentation together and Anne said to me loudly, as she slapped my back, “we have a softy!”
When I was on the Joe Hill 100 tour, I got a chance to really meet Anne Feeney. She is an amazing woman. The point of this chapter was to find a way to mention a lot of connective thoughts. Mention, folks who I have a deep respect for. Honor. This Is the folk tradition way. We must share! It is not boasting to have a need to tell a story. It is a must to share. That is how it is done.
The list at the beginning of this chapter, is at the root of my fragmented thought that I use on my website. Railroad Music: The Thread in the Quilt That Is Americana. There are many circles to talk about, many connections. Many tracks to go down. Utah Phillip’s suggested that Anne Feeney… Well, here is the quote from her website.
Anne is “the best labor singer in North America” according to Utah Phillips.
and I agree. What else could I say?
At that same Labor Notes convention, I handed out 100 free CD Baby download cards of my then new CD, Born Union. Not one person downloaded it. So, hipsterly speaking, right? Nobody likes a complainer?
Here’s why no one downloaded the CD. I hope!
People need a face to face, authentic human experience.
Folks need to know that you’re not trying to hornswoggle em’!
Ken Kesey considered himself to be the link between the beat poets of the 1950’s and the Hippies of the 1960’s. I consider myself to be the link between the anarchists and I.W.W members of the day and the connector track between the Dead Headish cooperative hippies of the 1980’s and the folk punk, hobo train kids there-of. I am a GenXer’ and take that as a label in-kind; counterculture so be it. I’ll own it, if I must. Baltimore Red suggested that I am the unknown the poet laureate of the union. I’ll accept that.
I am not interested in being part of the folk music industry. That is why I took the word Americana back and used it in my motto. A Folk Music industry? It would be against the soul porpoise of the goal!
All puns and miss peeled words – intended.
After words …
As a seasoned railroad worker and union activist, when I first learned of John Wright’s poetry and music, I knew that I was experiencing a rare phenomenon. J.P.’s songs come from real life, from day-to-day work 24/7 on the railroad. While the old railroad classics are among my favorites, anyone can play “The Wreck of Old 97” or “The City of New Orleans”.
Brother John is taking modern day stories – from his and his co-workers experiences – and creating heartfelt, humorous and often hard-hitting songs and ballads that speak intimately – not just to “rails” – but to anyone who has ever worked for a living. There is simply no one out there doing what J.P. Wright is doing.
At a rally in San Salvador in 2002, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the bands – the “entertainment” – rather than the official speakers, who lead the show from the podium, who set the tone of the event (an international rally against the Central American Free Trade Agreement). It impressed upon me that we need more artists, musicians, poets, story-tellers and performers of all types to step up and lead at these types of gatherings.
My Fellow Worker on the railroad – John Wright – is one of those with the keen insight, creativity, and artistry to transform an everyday sterile, dry, and lackluster “political event” into an uplifting and mind expanding experience. With his stories, poems, music and humor, J.P. speaks to working people’s reality, drawing them into the fight, providing encouragement and confidence, urging them forward.
Railroad Workers United
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For – Mrs. Bonita Points
My neighbor, she is 96 years old –
came out and walked around our
pond. we share this place –
i watched as she and her cane –
hobbled around a little path that
she maintains – her mind almost gone-
her look – far off and she reaches out
her hand- i take it into mine
as if i am greeting
a royal queen.
i already knew
she wouldn’t remember
when she called the police
on us for chopping down
one of her trees. And when
the policeman came …
he asked me how long her
husband had been gone …
he asked me what we should
do to make this right.
and on that day, i told him
he had been gone a long time
and that we should listen to her –
she won’t remember this anyway!
(… all she really wants is to find her
husband on that path, she wants
to look up from her weed pulling
and see him standing there,
her partner – who she talks about
every time we meet …)
… and as neighbors do,
she parted with some kind words –
she made a mention that soon
she will meet him up there!
I told her, that he has been
waiting a long time! she
shuffled away into the afternoon …
seemingly content that all
of this is here, the pond, the trees
and the yard that she
once bought with him,
planted with him,
soon my neighbor will be gone …
the 96-year-old angel
of his dreams …
… and he asked me “what are your politics?”
I told him Frank Zappa was my favorite
guitar player. Because he paid his musicians
a fair living wage.
Why don’t we talk
like that anymore?
I believe in my Djembe!
I believe in collectivism,
like as in an Arkestra …
Who followed the leader,
because the leader knew he
would need to make another
mistake and do something
wrong … and make another
mistake and do something
(and … all of this is but fragments
of thought radiating from years of
experience. Nights, burning away,
high on life’s blood surging
like panic and inspiration.)
It’s after the end of the world,
so … workers … fellow workers,
as we are forced to build their
pyramids – and as we are forced
by gun point and neglect – to watch
the takers of the world destroy all
that is … don’t forget to look at the
stars – remember to look into the
water at the mirror image,
and remember this is all about you!
and me too …
ashes to ashes –
we all fall down
if we fall to fear …
our religion is reason,
my political views
are man-made. The laws of nature are
relevant to us all. Self-help comes
directly in action and inaction.
We revolve …
If we build a new world?
They will try to destroy it.
I, don’t want no part of theirs.
They can keep their ashes –
their corpses – and monuments.
(Yours for the Alter Destiny…
Space is the Place….)
From a recent show at Lettersong Gallery
from today – Sunday – Oh, Louisville .. SMH …
the slaves cry from the field …
master – with watchful eye
his employee shall do his
so as to keep his hands
free of responsibility –
master doesn’t whip his slaves –
he sub-contracts out that labor …
(now turn over the tag
on your shirt)
and ask this question …
Do I Support Slave Labor?
How do we defend that?
Pick up a rock!
Are you (triggering) –
A revolt – a slave
insurrection – intersection
from the other
side of the tracks?
(I’ll clean a pane of
my glass house
the slaves cry some more –
and X – Marx the spot
where they killed the
reformer – turned
against him –
they listened to all
the critical judgement-
the name calling-
the War of factions –
(now, turn your clothing
inside out- and walk
a mile in my slave made
Buy into my story –
gather round me children
a story i will tell –
of a code talker
and a heroine-
the slaves knew her well-
(now, i am holding a tool
made by machines)
wave that flag
wave it high
i got the US blues –
(this is madness)
that freak flag
and kiss the sky –
and now call me
a punk… and pick
up another rock!
(now, let us remember that
LP’s are made from oil)
and what about this
and what about that –
the house slave is getting
nervous – it’s awfully
comfortable and cold
so, he fracks a bit of coal
(now, slaves- have you
Agitated- ill sip
some more of my
made by farmers
own a coop –
and the seller owns
his business – yet
(this is a family business
you can talk to us directly)
Now ask yourself …
What is a union?
and X Marx the spot
where ISLAM and Peace
rests. (They) killed Malcolm
The code talkers?
No! (A black mass)
(and X Marx the spot
where C+C still = C if there
is no slave to trade in
a market that is free)
and 2+2 still = 4 unless
you fall to fear –
a caged mind
(i’ll change a pane
of broken glass)
You could think
about time …
grab another rock
because X Marx the spot
where (They) killed
MLKjr … the code
for Change …
The slave slips
away – and the
as the animals
(have you learned
the lesson yet?)
I’ll go (Even Further)
so gather round me
Hop on the buss
and a story i will
about the hero
who stole from the rich
and gave to the poor …
and then Quit!
He had gone far enuf!
(now, get back to
shit floats to
I B of C local 1
amen & Sisters too!