Skip to content

Out of a Chalk Circle

No matter how much faculty of idle seeing a man has, the step from knowing to doing is rarely taken. ‘Tis a step out of a chalk circle of imbecility into fruitfulness.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


The calendar won’t declare it for another month, but it’s winter here in Trumansburg. That brash, cutting cold. And this is the time when the songs that have crept up on my early mornings over these many months are finally put to tape. What better time of the year to nestle in for hours in front of microphones, as the confidence wanes after the seventh, eighth, 13th take of a song? Recording and I aren’t close, but it’s a love-hate thing. Thus has been the routine these past few weeks, mercifully interrupted by a run around the neighborhood and a home-cooked meal with the lady. How’s life, you ask? Hair’s longer; I’m an editor now at the paper; back aches a bit, etc. So it goes.

I’ve found a new friend in this dude Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose writings, though routinely interrupted with far too many commas, kinda like this very sentence, and, at times, awfully heady, have found a home somewhere in my inner recesses. Dig it a lot. I can’t help but think back to my Charlotte, NC, days, heading uptown for open mic nights. There was a player there, a teacher by day – Bob, maybe – who’d play this slow, weepy ballad he wrote, and it was all about Emerson, about how he was forgotten between Dumas – it was some famous author whose name started with D – and Faulkner. Mid-song, he’d break away from the melody and recite a passage from “Self Reliance”. Shit was deep. I mean it. You don’t get that often at open mics. Depth, I mean. Not shit. There is plenty of shit at open mics.

Speaking of which, I played another gig down in Wellsboro, Pa., last weekend. It’s been something of a regular thing, four or five times now in the past year or so. Seems to be going well, as well as a solo guy playing tunes in a bar/lounge can go. I pump the three-hour sets full of Creedance Clearwater Revival, LOTS of Justin Townes Earle and even some Sam Cooke and James Carr tunes, though dropped down a step or three (Ditto for the CCR tracks). That higher register just ain’t in my wheelhouse. People were especially wonderful this time around. I was truly touched by an older gentleman who ventured out from the dining room to stick a twenty into the jar. Said he and his wife had been listening a while. Thank you, sir, whoever you are.

I’m always surprised with the reaction I get from Pennsylvanians at the bar when I tell them I’m from Trumansburg. Where’s that? they ask. By Ithaca. Ithaca, they smirk. They roll their eyes in the kind of friendly way that a level-headed fan from the opposing team does when you say you aren’t rooting for the home squad. But we’re not talking about sports teams. It’s gas drilling, specifically fracking, that undoubtedly becomes the basis of our conversation, as it did with a nice gentleman I met last Friday. I gave Bill my usual disclaimer: I try to stand right in the middle of the debate, I say. You can make a case for; you can make a case against, etc. etc. etc. Then Bill and I bullshitted about Justin Townes Earle and Elliott Smith, and I hit the bricks, my wallet a little heavier. You see, music is the ultimate unifier. That and cold domestics.

Say hi when you see me next, and for Christ sake, put your fucking phone away.



Everything is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and drives us home to add one stroke of faithful work.