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Posts Tagged ‘Arkansas’

The Power Of A Brutal Song

  Sometimes my kids do something so unexpected and extraordinary,  my understanding of the world changes just a little.

Jack has been a musician for years. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad (there was a song called “We Need More Hot Asian Chicks) and sometimes it’s ugly. The first time I went to one of his shows six or eight years a go he came out on stage in a tuxedo and by the end of the first song he’d stripped down to his boxers.

Now my son, who never stopped playing and writing music, is in Nashville.  He has joined forces with some astonishingly good musicians..they are Natural Outlaws.

Six months ago he called me with some lyrics he couldn’t get out of his head. As I drove he read some of them to me. “I just want to make you proud. I hope you hear me I’m singing awful loud. This old moonshine’s got no decency…”

Listening to him, I was kind of lost. I couldn’t figure out where he was going with the song.  All his  other  songs and lyrics had typically revolved around guns, whiskey and women. Pork chops and gravy music, that’s witty and evil and dangerous and makes you want to do double shots and dance with construction workers. Not a good thing for a middle aged mom, but fun. 

Over the next few months he mentioned this particular song in passing. The band was working on it in the studio. Their seemingly possessed drummer Matt, who went to Berkley, and looks and plays like a red-headed Viking,  sounded amazing.  Dan, who has played classical piano since he was five has be “ruint”. He now had some nasty and trashy honky tonk shit working in it the song.

A couple of months ago Jack sent me the rough cut of Make You Proud.  It gave me goose bumps, something that had never happened when I listened to his songs. I was stunned by the beauty and complexity of the entire arrangement.

Ryan is the bands guitarist and his music is generally very physical. It’s “boy rock and roll” verging on country brutality.  And Clark’s bass work changes your heart rhythm. Most Natural Outlaw songs  will land you in prison but this one was different.

This song made me stop and think and feel.I had to listen to it three or four times to understand all the soaring layers. What the hell was going on with those boys?

And the Natural Outlaws have finally given me permission to share it.

It’s the first song on their new webpage. http://www.naturaloutlawmusic.com/

I don’t know what will happen with the Natural Outlaws or this song. But this song does it. This song makes me proud.

Go On And Bulldoze the Malco

Last night I heard from a friend the roof on the historic Malco Theater was so damaged in a recent storm, water was pouring in, soaking the ancient red velvet seats.  Well, this is Hot Springs Arkansas and we have a history of ignoring our most important and significant buildings. We let them rot though they are important and historic. Then they are either unsalvageable or torn down. So we might as well bulldoze the Malco right now so it’s a  quick death.

If you are from Hot springs, Arkansas you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Think about the Python Bath House, The Opera House and now the Majestic Hotel, Medical Arts and Thompson Building.  I could go on and on. Thank God the bath houses are part of the National Park. The United States takes better care of their stuff than our town.

We are all idiots because Hot Springs is a beautiful tourist town, know for it’s historic downtown and magnificent architecture. Still, we all watch as gorgeous 100 year old buildings crumble around us. We shrug as though it’s not our problem Financially that’s so stupid because most of us need the tourists here, even if it’s in  a trickle down kind of way.  I work for a radio station, for the most part local folks listen to radio so we are not directly  dependent on tourists. But many of my clients, restaurants etc sure do need them here. So I need them.

The situation with the Malco, which was originally a vaudeville theater, then turned into a movie house in the mid-1930s…we all grew up there.  It’s part of our history.  Do you remember sitting in the balcony throwing popcorn at people, making out with a hot girl, getting shushed or kicked out?  That’s what we all did in the Malco.

When I was eight years old I snuck into my first scary movie, Scream and Scream Again.  In the first five minutes a guy gets his legs amputated.  I freaked out and started screaming. I didn’t stop screaming until  a skinny teen-aged usher took me by the hand and lead me to the lobby. 

My older brother, Granger, used to drop me off to watch a movie alone when he was supposed to babysit me.  He’d give me a few dollars then go to the Cue Club to play pool for two hours.

The first time I ever saw a digital watch was in the Malco. It was the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die.  Bond looked at his watch, it was digital and there was a murmmer of awe in the theater.

The Malco is part of our African American History with it’s now disturbing back door  entrance for black movie goers.

My father and grandfather were architects so I love it’s textbook art deco design,the huge curved stairway to the balcony is so grand  and the marquee is exquisite, bright and gaudy and beautiful like a bowl full of jelly beans.

 Hot Springs, like many little southern towns, ignores our Architectural History.  No wonder all the yankees who move here think we are morons.  But the Malco is more to Hot Springs. It tells our story,  it’s a character in our life history and it is ours to save.

 Still, nobody is coming up with the money to fix the roof. We should all be ashamed.  I’m as bad as everyone else because I don’t even know who to give my pitiful donation too.

If  Hot Springs, Arkansas, and every other town in America doesn’t come to realize saving our historic buildings is OUR RESPONSIBILITY, we’ll end up leaving our children Wal-Marts and Dollar Stores. We’ll all point to a parking lot on Central and we’ll say to our grandkids, “there used to be a really cool movie theater there, too bad, it’s gone. It was really something.”

As I understand it they just need a few thousand dollars to fix the roof, less than most of us spend on a new lawn mower or eatting out every year.  There is still time to save the Malco, but not much. If we love Hot Springs, the town that raised us, all we have to do is act, move….do something, no matter how small. So the Malco doesn’t become another Majestic Hotel.

 If you have moment, drive past the Malco this week.  If you were one of those loud and obnoxious kids in the back row, if you finally got the nerve to kiss a girl, if you watched a movie that stayed you for years, give a damn. Make a phone call and save your own history and livelyhood.

 

 

Al Green to Johnny Cash…Why Arkansas is So Amazing

Arkansas is a strange little state and my home. We constantly rank in the top five for bad things like obesity, teen pregnancy, high school drop outs, poor health care, and poverty. Any outsider might think we were a lowly and pathetic place. What they don’t know about Arkansas is it is an absolutely gorgeous and lush state, it’s also a ridiculously friendly place. Though poor, Arkansas is, per capita, one of the most generous states in America.

But it’s the musical side of Arkansas that always strikes me as most remarkable. We have a population of less than 3 million still the list of famous musicians, singers and songwriters is so stunning. This morning I spent an hour doing research (something you know I rarely do, generally my big fat opinion is enough for me). I made a list of the musicians I like who came from my lovely emerald green state.

The List:    Sonny Burgess, Howlin’ Wolf, Al Bell, James Cotton, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Driftwood (he wrote Tennessee Stud and The Battle of New Orleans because he was a high school teacher and he wanted to help his students understand a history class),Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn, Lefty Frizzell (He wrote If You’ve Got the Money Honey, I’ve Got the Time),Randy Goodrum, Al Green (who is in my top five for favorite singers of all time, just ask my kids),Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm, Scott Joplin the King of Ragtime, Louis Jordan (a contemporary of Louis Armstrong but dirtier and a lot blacker. Beans and Cornbread, Choo Choo Boogie, He had something like 14 number one hits),Buddy Jewel, Albert King, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Nichols, Charlie Rich aka the Silver Fox, Sister Rosetta Tharp( she influenced everyone in rock and roll including Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and fellow Arkansan Johnny Cash)Conway Twitty (super sleazy legendary country singer),Sonny Boy Williamson, Justin Moore, and R&B icon Ne-Yo. And of course TI did prison time right here in Arkansas. The list would have been much longer if I’d included jazz and opera stars.

I looked at other states with close to 3 million residents and they didn’t have near the musical star power and history of Arkansas. Kansas can brag about Charlie Parker, Joe Walsh and Melissa Ethridge, but that’s about it. Then there’s Utah and Nevada, both with embarrassingly shallow musical benches.

So, what is it about Arkansas? Maybe it’s the poverty that inspired so many of our country and blues greats. Perhaps the lack of educational opportunities gave the trifling young men and women time to hone their craft. One observation I couldn’t ignore. Most of the great musicians came from the uglier parts of the state. Maybe they were all just looking for a way out of this beautiful, friendly but often times impoverished state.

In less than ten years there’s another band of Arkansas players who will make my list and yours too. The Natural Outlaws. Big fat fun abrasive southern rock.
Play on boys.

Stupid Wonderful Nicknames Pooh Bear, Bimbo and The Alligator Farm

Standing in the bank, moving money around,  I hear a voice, “Hey Pooh Bear”! I look over and see a 60 year old man, gray hair, lovely suit, waving at me on the far side of the bank lobby. He’s actually the bank president and he was my brother, Granger’s, buddy, forty five years ago. He’s a handsome bank president and he still calls me Pooh Bear.  He gives me a big hug and for a warm moment I’m home again with my brother and all his friends. But Granger has been dead for almost a year. Still, I feel loved because he used my nickname.

Nicknames are a double edged sword.

 By the time I turned 25 I despised being called Pooh Bear with a red hot lava like hatred. Now, when I hear Pooh Bear I just smile because I know it’s someone who knew my family and loved us. It’s a sweet sound.

When new friends use my old nickname it sounds wrong, almost offensive.  If they weren’t part of the history and story they shouldn’t use the name. It’s not their story.  Nicknames are personal, kind of like a secret handshake. If you aren’t part of the club you shouldn’t try to use it.

I have a cousin, handsome and smart guy named Daley. But growing up EVERYONE called him Bimbo. And I thought Pooh Bear was bad.

Growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas my best friends when I was really little (4 to 7) were Pinky and Squampy. Pinky was probably 7 when I was 5 and Squampy was 3. Our moms ran in a local theater group, The Community Players.

 One Friday evening,Pinky, Squampy and I were left alone, again, at the Community Players  while our moms directed and stared in A Street Car Named Desire.

There was a tourist attraction next door to the theater,The Alligator Farm.  It’s a little place with a lot of gators in shallow pools. But there was a big fat tree growing out of the parking lot and it stretched out across the gator pools.

While our moms were busy with Blanche and Stanley,  Pinky convinced us to crawl out on the tree branch, over the alligator pools.

An hour later the adults started looking for us. We’d shimmied out on a thick branch and were staring at dozens of alligators. But Squampy, the youngest, was afraid to shimmy backwards, so we couldn’t get off the branch.

All three of us  were clutching the phone pole sized branch, waiting to get eaten or  for grown ups to find us. If I’d died that day  the newspaper head line might have read “Alligator Eats Pooh Bear!”

Mary, my oldest daughter, is gorgeous now, but when she was little she was kind of silly looking. We called her Buddy Hackett (I swear she looked like him),  and we called her Murry. Why Murry? Because when we went to the beach she refused to keep her top on. So we decided if we called her Murray, everyone would think she was a little boy.

Nicknames…they suck, they embarrass us, we hate them. But now, that I’m an adult and fairly confident, and feeling like I have nothing to prove, Pooh Bear doesn’t embarrass me. It makes me feel loved. Murray makes Mary laugh because she knows how beautiful she is and it’s a great story. 

Once you grow up and figure out who you are, nicknames are pretty wonderful. They are part of your story.  Pinky, Squampy and Biimbo, I still love you.

Got a nickname, a comment or idea…WRITE TO ME at hampoland@gmail.com or leave a comment.

Cousins

When I was little my best friends were Louella, Liz and Mike, my cousins. Actually they were my only friends. When Liz was seven, I was six and Mike was five we caught a giant catfish named Big Willie. We didn’t know what to do with him so we dragged him back to my condo and put the bastard  in the bathtub. We let that 10 pound monster swim between ournaked legs until Louella, our friend and maid, walked in and started screaming. Then we all got spanked.

I was jealous because Liz and Mike had a pet pig named Charlie Brown. he was a really big pig, not one of these hot dog size pygmie things. Liz would climb on board the 300 pound beast, Mike would pull his tail and off they would go. Both Liz and Charlie Brown screaming across the pasture.

Mike was a tiny kid who looked like a redneck made man in the mafia. And we would fight, I mean really fight, like midget wrestlers, all the time. Once, when were were five and six, we climbed the tree in front of Mike’s house. Then we started arguing. What could we argue about in a tree? I don’t remember but something got us going.

Eventually, we started throwing punches and trying to choke each other, on a branch… in a tree. We were screaming and our teenaged brothers, Ricky, Bimbo, Granger and Jack came out to see what we were doing.

They started laughing at the Arkansas spider monkeys fighting in a tree. Then Mike threw a haymaker and we both fell, ten or twelve fee,t onto our backs. The fall knocked the wind out of us both and we lay there, under the tree, thinking we would die. Gasping, flopping and clutching our bony chests. Of course that only made the brothers laugh harder. (I’m pretty sure there was beer involved)

Cousins, we all grew up in the same, insane universe. We understood everything about each other without speaking, because we were all born and cut from the same rough, misshapen fabric. We were family. We had the same blood and nothing is more profound. Time and history doen’t matter if you are cousins because you share the same DNA and history, they are woven together, like an Indian braid, inseparable and unbreakable.

Twenty or thirty years passed and I hadn’t seen or spoken to Mikey and Lizzy but the moment we were together again, the moment our voices touched, we were bonded, thick as thieves, intertwined by a blood line so powerful and unique no one else could understand or interfere. If Mikey or Liz called me today and asked me to drive 3,000 miles to pick them up in a truck stop there is nothing that could stop me. Because it’s been so long I might not recognize them when I got there but we would find each other and do what needed to be done.

 We are family and together we will walk to the magnificent , golden gates of Heaven or the torterous  fiery gates of Hell… together. Our past is the same and our future will be too. Because we are family, we are  cousins and we will always be together. Always.

hampoland@gmail.com

You Are A Terrible Politician! Please, Stop Shaking My Hand

Yesterday I shook hands with one of the worst politicians imaginable. He was a friendly, normal looking guy, who’s running for a Congressional seat in Arkansas.

The problem didn’t start until he started talking. We stood alone in the radio station break room and for eleven minutes (I was watching the clock) he told me absolutely everything about himself….And he never asked me a single question. Not one.

He told me about his business experience, his wife, his kids, his church, his county, his passion, his concern, his faith, his convictions and work ethic. He told me how honest and hard working he was.

He did not ask me my last name, if I was married, if I had kids, where we lived. He did not ask me what I was concerned, passionate or angry about. He did not ask me if I was affiliated with a political party. He did not ask me about our schools, our roads, our taxes, our unemployment rate or our government. He did not ask me about crime in my area, global warming, swine flu, our service men in Iraq or Afghanistan. He did not ask if I believed in school prayer, hunting, the NRA, gay rights, abortion, or food stamps. He did not ask what I wanted my congressman to do or how he could help me. BECAUSE HE DIDN”T CARE.

I’m in radio sales and everyday, much like a good politician, I try to solve people’s problems. But I can’t do that unless I ask countless questions about their business. How do I know what they need unless I ask questions and listen? Do you get the correlation?

You sir, are a terrible politician and I would never vote for you. Because you obviously do not give a rats ass about my life or what I need or how you can help make the great state of Arkansas even better. 

You are what I fear and abhor most in politicians. You think you are the center of the solar system and you already know what’s best for my family. You should be a celebrity not a politician. Because in your mind and world it’s obviously all about you.

A good politician can help more people in a single day than the rest of us can in a life time. But not if you don’t look people in the eye, ask questions and  listen, listen, listen, then ask more questions and listen some more.

It’s not about you, it’s about the people and state you serve. Do you even know who we are? Do you even care?  Wait, I think you answered that question during our 11 minute meeting in the break room.

Leave a comment or e-mail me!  hampoland@gmail.com

A West Mountain Love Story

I’ve been told by a few romantics that it’s time for another Hot Springs love story. Telling these makes me feel like I’ve been eating whipped cream. And that’s always good.

A West Mountain Love Story

     Imagine Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1934. The country was depressed and stuck in a black and white mentality; but Hot Springs, Arkansas was rolling.  Hot Springs was awash in cash, gangsters, bath houses, liquor and gambling. But none of this lascivious fun effected my parents who were 9 and 10 years old in 1934. And they were already in love.

My dad, Irven Granger McDaniel, had a problem. He lived on Whittington Avenue and his family was struggled throughout the 30s. My mother, Ann Stell never suffering in the least. Her daddy was a surgeon and they had just finished building a lovely house on Prospect Avenue. Prospect Avenue and Whittington Avenue were seperated by West Mountain, part of Hot Springs National Park. That’s the only thing that stood between Ann Stell and Irven in 4th grade.

West Mountain is a lovely and graceful little mountain. It’s not very tall but it is pretty steep and completely overgrown with pine and hardwood. Still, two or three times a week, after school, my dad had to go see the love of his life. So he would literally run over the mountain.  He always told us he followed deer trails he found and the trip would take him about an hour if he actually ran. He figured out exactly how to land in Ann Stell’s back yard.

So, imagine a grubby little 10 year old boy emerging from the woods, then ringing the back door bell of a lovely white two story home.  That was Dad.

My grandfather, the surgeon, wasn’t really pleased by the little boy’s arrival.  He didn’t want his pretty  daughter playing with the smiling but rough cut kid all the time. So he told the maids (there were two at the time, one to cook and one to clean) not to let Irven in every day.  They had to tell him Ann wasn’t home or was busy, so he would run back into the woods and over the mountain. 

Well, telling the friendly love sick little boy this story broke their hearts. The maids felt sorry for him. He worked so hard to see Ann and he had such a big friendly gaped tooth grin.  So, on the days that he wasn’t allowed to see his love Ann, the maids made sure they left a plate of milk and cookies on the back porch, so Irven had enough strength to run back over the mountain before dark.

My dad died when he was 52. But before he left, he told us to pour his ashes on West Mountain because he’d always be there…. running to his girl.

Silly Little Fool…A Bubba Story

boyI am a big believer in the power of family stories. I think they help us all remember who we really are and where we came from. You can lose everything from guitars to dogs but nobody can take your history.

Fortunately I’ve been blessed with a very “oral” family. We yammer on and on. For generations we’ve been telling stories. (When I married Alex there was a cosmic hiccup in the universe because he was the first quiet member of our family in 200 years)

So, here’s one of my favorites from my grandmother Bubba.

Bubba, who’s real name was Ruth Ross, was born in Kingsland, Arkansas in 1895. She was the middle child of three and her brothers were named,(I swear I’m not making these up) Egbert and Delbert. When this story took place Delbert was around 12, Ruth was 8 and Egbert was probably 6.

Kingsland isn’t far from the town of Fordyce, Arkansas and one day, when Ruth was eight her father decided she was old enough to ride the train, with her younger brother, alone, to Kingsland, where Delbert would meet them at the station.

Her father, who was a small man with a gigantic mustache, gave her a dollar for the tickets and put them on the train with their suitcases, because they were supposed to spend the week with their Aunt.

Both the children were dressed up of course. Ruth was wearing a puffy yellow dress with a white sash and six year old Egbert had on his suit, suspenders and a cap. My grandmother was 98 the last time she told this story. Nearly blind, she would close her eyes and rub my hand as she envisioned her baby brother. She would lose herself in the memory and I stayed silent.

The conductor, dressed in black, came around and took the dollar from the children. The train started rolling and they waited patiently for him to return with their change. The train began chugging along, faster and faster, and still he didn’t come back with their change.

After fifteen minutes or so, the train began to slow down  to stop at the Kingsland station and still, the conductor hadn’t returned with their change.

Passengers got on and off the train and finally, the conductor appeared with their eighty cents. But the train was already pulling out from the Fordyce station.

So Ruth, grabbed Egbert’s little hand and they both jumped from the slow moving train.

Together they rolled and tumbled down the embankment, their suitcases popped open and all their clothes flew out. A shocked crowed gathered around then oldest brother Delbert appeared. He’s been waiting for them and was obviously annoyed. He pulled Egbert,who was crying, to his feet and as he brushed the dirt and grass off his suit said, “You silly little fool, that’s what you get for following a woman”.

Throwing Up On Valentine’s Day…A Love Story

After reading my friend Cara’s blog,http://jereandcara.blogspot.com/2011/02/old-people-at-valentines.htmlabout old people and Valentine’s Day I thought I better write something that wasn’t GROSS! She hates VDay but was moved by an old guy at Walgreens.

So, here’s my gross story.  During the depression my parents Ann Stell and Irven were in love, even in fifth grade. Mom came from a wealthy family, her dad was a surgeon. And my dad’s father was a brilliant, drunken architect. During the depression there wasn’t much work for brilliant architects.

So, in 5th grade Irven got a job working in a drug store after school and on Saturdays. Three weeks before Valentine’s Day they put up a giant red heart display in the window. The centerpiece piece was a massive heart shapped box of chocolates.It was covered with ribbons, bows and shiny stuff.  Two pounds of chocolate. Irven thought it was the most beautiful thin he’d ever seen. And so he decided  he was going to save all his money and buy the giant and glorious box of chocolate for Ann Stell because he planned on marrying her someday.

For three weeks he worked extra hours and saved every penny. He even told his mom he made less than he did so he could squirrel away money and buy the chocolates for Ann.

On February 13th he counted out all his money and paid for the massive shimmering box of chocolate and on Valenetine’s day he carried the enormous heart shaped gift a mile and a half to Ann’s lovely colonial style house on Prospect Avenue.

He range the doorbell and smiled at the maid, Iolla, when she opened the door.

“Miss Ann, your boy is here,” then Iolla winked at 10 year old, overall wearing, Irven.

Ann bounded down the stairs smiling with her thick glasses and beautiful but simple plaid dress.

Without saying a word Irven extended the heart shaped box of chocolates and grinned. He thought he would say “Happy Valentine’s Day,” but couldn’t speak so he just smiled.

Ann didn’t reach for the heart as Irven expected, instead she just shook her head, kind of saddly and said, “I’m sorry, my mother doesn’t let me eat cheap candy but you can come in if you want.”

Irven just shrugged and took a step backwards.

Ann smiled sweetly and said, “See you tomorrow,” then closed the door.

Irven was so devastated he didn’t know what to do. Finally, he walked down the 14 steps that lead back to the street. He sat down on the Prospect Avenue curb and sighed, then he opened the chocolate and started eating the two pounds of “cheap chocolate.”

Thirty minutes latter, his stomach started rolling and then he threw up two pounds of chocolate on the sidewalk in front of Ann’s house.

Mom always said this story wasn’t fair. Dad was a brilliant stroy teller and she couldn’t even get the punch line of a joke right. So, throughout their 30 years together she always sounded like the bad guy.

But that’s love and perspective. As the old adage goes, there is your version, my version and the truth.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Be Kind and tell a friend if you like the story.

Arkansas…We’ve Got More Than Dead Birds to Brag About

Arkansas is a quirky funky little state. Unless you’ve visited, you probably don’t know what Arkansas even looks like. Generally, when I’m in other states and say I’m from Arkansas people respond, “Really? I’ve never met anyone from Arkansas”. As though we share a border with Uzbekistan.

Right now most Americans know four things about us.
1. 3,000 dead birds fell out of the sky on New Year’s eve over Beebe, Arkansas.
2. 100,000 dead fish just showed up in the Arkansas River this past weekend.
3. Bill Clinton is from Arkansas.
4. Some people know the Arkansas Razorbacks are playing Ohio State tonight in the Sugar Bowl.

But there’s one more thing I want you to know about my “odd, camo wearin’, fried catfish lovin’ state.

According to the latest issue of Time Magazine there are four states in America that are not in the red, there are four states without “massive budge shortfalls…just four and Arkansas is part of that illustrious group along with Alaska, Montana and North Dakota.

In this month’s issue of Time there is a  United States map , Arkansas is colored green because we are in the green! We didn’t spend more money than we had. 

What’s weird is I almost cried when I read the one paragraph story, because Arkansas is always on the map or list for bad reasons. We continually make the top ten for obesity, diabetes, strokes, poor educational opportunities, we have the lowest number of college graduates, the most smokers, our health system is lacking, some of our schools still spank kids,  our girls get pregnant too early and we don’t brush our teeth enough.  But you  know what? Our budget is balanced!

I can hear you cynics right now. I know what you are thinking. Our budget is balanced because we don’t spend money on the important things like health and education. We’ll stop your smirking and let me be proud of my state for a few minutes.

(Strangely enough, my son, Jack , has a tattoo of Arkansas on his thigh with a star on top of Hot Springs. I like to think it’s so he can always find his way home, he just has to take off his pants.)

Who knows what’s next for Arkansas! We might finish school, we might loose weight, we might stop smoking…It’s a new year and anything is possible for a wacky little state like Arkansas.

*Thanks for reading. Hampoland. I’m thinking about catfish for lunch. DH