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.

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

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

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

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

lyrics

Leave The Lights On For Me
07-07-2016

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

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

[chorus]

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

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

[chorus]

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

[chorus]



*disclaimer

In a boom or bust economy – this song has been the breaking news for generations.
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Last Night at the Unity Dinner …

Last night at the Unity Dinner …

I spoke of our ancestors.
An invocation by name.

Glenda’s son.

Everybody
knew me as Glenda’s boy
back when you were the big name
in our activist circles!

I wanted out!

So I went off on my own
and found my activist
work in Nuclear Free Zone
of Louisville. I was 15 –
your name and work was
oppressive to my identity.

Everybody knew the immigrant’s
kid, born on East Jefferson St.
Mellick’s youngest baby –
even the Outlaws around
the block knew not to mess
with you.

Last night,
I “Lifted Every Voice!”
in a trade found of
harsh labor.
My voice was tired
and weary from missing
yours. a sound – 
that feels
oh so close these days
and nights of longing.

Feeling called –
I put a rose over my door
to invite soft conversation.
To conjure spirits
in kind, luring lost souls
to action – ghosts –
calling them, home.

As our organizing used to
be, coffee, child, mother –
lesson plans and your
want to see me shine.
Your birds out the window
my childhood home
your eyes and strong
words – Everything is
an Educational Moment -.
and I could do no wrong!

and We honor our elders!
at all cost. and in that
respect, they are placed
in a position of
understanding. A giveaway –
as known by native
voices – sometimes
i feel, like a motherless
child – but last night
at the Unity Dinner
i felt as if I
was being called
home.

Johnny Paul

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John Henry died for our sins!

I am thinking back to my last

days on the rail.

Back to a final run that ended

in Cave City, KY.

My conductor and I

waiting for a van ride home.

We dogged, didn’t make it.

 

Thinking back to the train derailment

in Colesburg, Kentucky.

Thinking back to the locker room

in Nashville.

Sitting at the picnic table, in the crew room –

listening to five trainmasters

make light of an unsafe situation

that could have killed

four of my union brothers

and possibly an entire town.

 

A 16,000 plus ton train.

Two locomotives on the head-end.

Two locomotives in the middle.

The train being in total, almost two miles long.

 

Two days before, a train just like this one

came off the rail putting 20 something

cars on the ground.

 

Half of it, still sitting up on Tunnel Hill.

Rumors, as of that morning were;

that the cleanup crew while

trying to move the rest of the derailed train,

what was left of it, almost derailed again.

 

I am thinking about the day

that broke the camel’s back.

My plan was to go to work and

just do what they tell me to do.

 

The trains that we were being expected

to run, were the talk of the town.

Something was always going wrong,

numbers were being crunched,

books being cooked, and we were all

being expected to just, “run the plan.”

 

I am thinking about

a conversation

with my bosses.

The tremendous pressure that was

causing them to try and gauge

what my modus operandi would

be for that day.

 

One on the bosses, matter of fact,

the Terminal Superintendent,

suggested that he had heard,

 

“that us Louisville boys

don’t really like this train.”

 

I snapped.

 

I asked the railroad officials

the names of the people who were

almost killed the day before.

 

They didn’t know their names.

 

I am thinking about what I said,

head hot,

sweating and

pissed off more than ever before.

 

I almost marked off sick. Language, native.

A language only railroaders know.

Marking off sick,

the ace up the sleeve

that gives us a way out.

An ace.

 

I told them very sternly

to get out of my fucking face.

I told them, I would show them how

to inspect four locomotives.

 

Twenty minutes for each machine.

They knew what I was saying. Implying.

They knew I was right to be throwing this fit.

Nobody thought these new trains were, a good idea.

 

That is why I never heard

the threat of insubordination.

And to be more explicit and

somewhat to conjure another voice

that was informing my resolve –

I told my train masters to …

 

Go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut,

go take a flying fuck at the moon.

Ting a ling, and so on.

 

They didn’t mention that they would

charge me with delay of trains.

The five bosses knew that what we were

being expected to do was insane.

Greedy.

 

They mentioned that this was not their idea

and were only taking orders.

They were half drunk on kool aid –

half on my side and wanting the strength

of my union educated foot to somehow

strike out at the ass of the message maker,

not their messenger positions.

 

I am thinking about how,

for almost two years before that day in the

locker room – about how a fragment of a speech –

from a presentation at Yale University

that Wendell Berry,

the poet, family man,

seeker gave,

and how it

resonated

in my soul.

 

I am thinking about how two lines

haunted my moral convictions.

 

I am thinking back,

in hopes my hindsight is 20/20.

I am thinking about being part

of an organization that beat down

the first widespread union supported

attempt to reduce trains crews

to just one person.

 

I am thinking about the

luddites who quickly new –

 

“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”

 

I am thinking about the word,

informed and

 

how that word is used to suggest an authoritative

voice that speaks from experience.

And how that thought

takes me to this fragment.

 

I am thinking seriously about a moral.

 

A moral to a folk story and how that story,

and the fragments of a presentation from a poet,

informed my decision to walk away from a career.

A career that I was proud somewhat,

to be part of.

History.

 

John Henry died for our sins!

 

John Henry lives every day when a

human being is being asked

to conform to an unreasonable shift.

A shift to the inhumane practices

of an industrial economy.

He died with a last request.

He wanted a cool drink of water

before he died.

 

What informed my decision

to abandon my post of Locomotive Engineer

was a complicated list that stretches as long

as the trains that were being demanded of us

to operate.

 

And down a side track, I go, again.

I am also informed by another folk story

of what seems to be happening to me now

because of my decision.

 

Jumping Mouse, the fictional mouse in a well know

native peoples’ folk tale, is found to be suspicious after

his decision to leave his community.

 

After Jumping Mouse

was tricked to fall into the river –

he found himself not

trusted by his friends!

The searching –

that want to go away –

leave, find wisdom –

became a serious burden

and a long, difficult journey.

 

And what seems to me

to be a one-track pondering –

running through

most of my narrative of late is …

 

A question.

A burning question

that fuels this want

to present ideas,

what some

may call prose,

other may brand

a long read –

poetic justice.

 

Isn’t’ this enough?

The creative questions presented!

Isn’t the hook baited well enough to be

expecting further questions?

 

I have named dropped well known

contemporary thinkers, folk tales,

scary stories of possible destruction!

 

What gives?

 

I guess I am tied to John Henry

and his demise.

As many railroaders

who have not a clue

who their own

folk hero was,

there are as many

folklorists who didn’t

ever stop to think –

 

what was the moral to the story?

 

I have never heard a question

presented by any academic

accreditation that went to the

very end of the folk thesis.

 

Did John Henry ever

get his cool drink of water?

 

If I must suffer another narrative

of what is wrong with the railroad,

I also may just die before being allowed

time to vindicate the demise of my fellow

worker and brother,

John Henry.

 

I am thinking back to

the day, I walked away.

I am thinking back

to a lonely dark spring early

morning, watching leaves

blow down the street in

Cave City, Kentucky –

the day I sidetracked

my train and went home.

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