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Jewish World Review August 8, 2001 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Life on the Lam: A travel journal of sorts -- MOBY DICK, the great fishing novel, begins with a paean to the benefits of climbing out of one's rut: "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth," Ishmael observes, "whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet: and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand on me that it requires strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

Hypos is defined as a "morbid depression of the spirits," and the desire to escape that condition drives many of us to sea - "sea" being interpreted for this column as the vast plains of Colorado, which roll and dip a full mile above sea level, and the surrounding mountains, which rise higher than any tidal wave ever known. Our destination: the small town of Lyons, about an hour or so on the Wyoming side of Denver. Our mission: To play music, seek transcendental bliss, report our findings, and collect a check.

We - we defined here as the members of a band called Floor Creak - set out on our journey armed with a guitar, a doghouse bass, and a marvelous Singing Wench. Noticeably absent was the Surgeon General. This is not to be taken as a personal attack on anyone who has ever filled this position. The SG, after all, is a freak of nature in the sense that, unlike many medical problems, he will not go away even if you ignore him. So let us give honor where honor is due.

Yet going on the road with a band is not to be mistaken for a visit to the health club. The heart, lungs, liver, eyes, and large patches of hide are put very much at risk. This journey would be no different, for our gig sight was a brewery/restaurant called Oskar Blues. Indeed, from the moment of our arrival it was clear our challenges would be especially stark, largely because the Song Wench is also mother to the manager (a philosopher and bouncer named Wayne Bowers). Accordingly, our glasses were never allowed to go dry.

While some might panic is similar circumstances, we took this as a sign from above, and were soon drinking scores of mountain men and women under the table, and ourselves as well. Personal gratification was of course the last thing from our mind. Instead, we sought knowledge, which is summed up in a single line: There are meadows of bliss which cannot be reached by Transcendental Meditation, and places of enlightenment where Buddha dare not tread.

Unfortunately, there are few specifics to add. While we allowed ourselves, at great peril, to be washed upon Nirvana's shores, a look at our travel journals finds blank pages from this part of the journey. We also suffered unexplained skinned knees, bruised feet, and melted contact lenses. Go figure.

Not all of life is labor, and playing music is one of its great pleasures, especially when fellow humans are driven to dancing and applauding. Here we were not disappointed. One dancer, for example, put on a magnificent free-form performance - a spirited combination of writhing, standing on one leg, gazing oddly at the ceiling, and starting and stopping without apparent reference to the music being played.

This would not be worth further mention except for the different interpretations of this dance. Our bass player, a young punk, opined that this performance reflected something he called a "free" personality. The Song Wench and myself, who are middle aged and therefore sensible, suspected the inspiration to be untreated schizophrenia. Wayne merely observed that the dancer was from out of town.

This brings us to perhaps the most gratifying lesson learned during this journey: America continues to raise a generation of gifted moral philosophers and wise young people. A couple of examples make the point.

Wayne, 24 or thereabouts, was quite adamant that his customers, and especially his staff, honor one's mother and father, especially Wayne's mother. This admirable position was profoundly reflected in the loud and sustained applause that followed each song we performed. It was as if Wayne's employees knew that their Christmas bonuses would directly reflect their (outward) enthusiasm for Mom's singing. Indeed, in order that no one forget who was who, he billed the band not as Floor Creak but as Wayne's Mom. There is much to be said for directness.

As it happens, Ma (real name, Kathie Thomas) is a true Songbird with a majestic strut. Yet how refreshing to see arms twisted in the service of motherhood. The fact that the members of Mom's band got a free ride for the week also reflected well on the boy.

As it happens, we were not the only pickers in Lyons last week. Just up the street, the annual RockyGrass music festival was underway, featuring massively talented string musicians: David Grisman, Missy Raines, Jim Hurst, Chris Thile, Mark Schatz, Tim O'Brien, Darrel Scott, Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Dan Tyminski, and Mike Marshall, among others. People of such enormous talent suggest that perhaps the preachers are right: There is an Echo of Eden in our hearts. Musicians of such talent truly can transport us back to paradise (sensible people realizing, of course, that there is no paradise over the horizon).

As it also happens, the festival drew many members of what one brilliant social analyst (ahem) calls the Sixties Reenactment Troupe: young people who take great efforts to resemble the residents of the Haight Asbury district, circa 1967. They were accompanied by braless grandmothers swaddled in tie-dyed bedspreads, men a half-century old dancing about blowing soap-bubbles, beautiful twirling girls in gauze dresses, and countless stoners bearing slack jaws and reeking of patchouli oil. This is not to be taken as a condemnation. Better to spend time with Peter Pan than Captain Hook.

Yet their presence allowed our house philosopher to prove not all members of his generation have been bitten by the "non-judgmental" bug. Wayne's word for this crew: "Dirties." While rendering this judgment, he wore a scowl far beyond his years. It was somehow a very beautiful thing.

There were many other awesome creatures and experiences: a knockout waitress in a cowboy hat, a swarm of maniacal boring bees, a girl named Cupcake who sings like an angel, and a sky so blue it might have inspired Sylvia Plath to dance a jig. All of which had a very calming effect. Indeed, one notices a notable lack of interest in knocking off anyone's hat, though of course tomorrow is another day.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000, Dave Shiflett