Lucky stars, coyote howls and fellow travelers

1. My fellow traveler calls me from Indiana to report on her visit there.

She tells me she discovered — looked in the window but didn’t have the courage to actually go in — a 7-Eleven with an attached diner, with tables and chairs and waitresses and a menu.

She suspects this is a relatively new phenomenon. We agree it’s an ominous sign of the times. She tells me to be on the lookout for 7-Eleven diners when I hit the road in a few days on my way southward for an eight-day stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

2. Later that night she calls to tell me that she’s sitting in her motel room watching “Frankenstein” on cable TV.

3. She returns from Indiana the day before I’m off to Virginia. At dinner, I do my impression of Frankenstein’s monster  when he encounters the kindly blind man in his rustic cottage. You’ll recall that the lonely old man, who doesn’t realize that his surprise guest is a monster, gives his new friend a bowl of soup. a drink and a smoke. The monster, not used to human kindness, responds with happy grunts and heartfelt exclamations.

I do a damned good imitation of the monster’s “Smoke! Good!” and “Friend!” — right down to thumping my foot just like the monster does when the blind man plays a merry tune on his fiddle.

But I am humbled by the response, blown out of the water by a perfect imitation of the look on the Bride of Frankenstein’s face when she gets her first look at her green-complexioned beau.

4) Next night, I’m in Virginia, sitting on the front porch of my writing studio in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No 7-Eleven diners in sight. It’s dark. It’s quiet, except for a distant highway’s hum.

I hear a high, lonesome howl and high-pitched yipping bark. A coyote.

Another coyote answers — and another, and another, and another. I’m starting to wonder where these coyotes might be. I hear a rustle in the hedgerow. I decide it’s getting a little chilly out. I go inside, lock the door, and Google “coyotes” and “Virginia.”

5. I find a National Geographic article which reports that coyotes have become prevalent and pervasive throughout the United States.

AND…Some coyotes discovered in VIRGINIA have been determined to be hybrids of coyotes and WOLVES. That pack howling over the ridge  may be half-wolf, half-coyote  — and bigger and more aggressive than ordinary coyotes.

6. I, of course, get my phone, bravely step outside my doorway, and call New Jersey so she can hear the coyotes too. But the howling stops, so we say goodnight.

7. I linger in the doorway. I think of another Universal Pictures classic: “The Wolf Man,” starring Lon Chaney. As that movie begins, we read from an ancient book which describes the curse of the wolf man: Even a man who is pure in heart/and says his prayers by night/may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/and the autumn moon is bright.

I look up. The moon is just a half-moon. Thank God!

I look at the sparkling stars, my lucky stars, which we can see, coyotes and me, as we crane our necks and gaze up into the dark but star-specked Virginia sky.


Rocking in “The Cradle of Recorded Jazz”

Who ever would have imagined? Somehow you find yourself in, of all places, Indiana, in a town called Richmond, just over the Ohio line, about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville.

You’re heading to breakfast at a downtown cafe and notice a large mural, about two stories high, of a 1920s-vintage blues musician carrying his guitar and his cardboard suitcase. As you wonder about the mural, you wander around the corner and there’s another mural — this one depicts (their names are under the pictures, although you easily recognize a few of the faces) Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and others.

Turns out Richmond, Indiana, calls itself “The Cradle of Recorded Jazz” — and has a legitimate claim to that title. Early in the last century, the town was the home of Gennett Records and Studios, which put out early recordings by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller. Really early recordings. The last commercial record released with the Gennett label came out in 1934.

I didn’t get a chance to stop by the town’s Starr-Gennett Galley, which displays artifacts and memorabilia and offers CDs of music by the label’s musicians. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the Gennett Records Walk of Fame.

But I did visit the brick ruins of the former site of Gennett Records and the Starr Piano Company — Gennett was a division of Starr, which was famous in its own right and was founded way back in 1872 in Richmond. And as I tried to imagine the days when the place bustled with activity and reverberated with music, I also tried to get my head around the impressive roster of Gennett musicians — including Bix Beiderbecke and The Wolverines, Gene Autry, Big Bill Broonzy, blues diva Alberta Hunter, King Oliver, Lawrence Welk (yikes!) Hoagy Carmichael, country/bluegrass legend Uncle Dave Macon, and — holy moley and hosannah! — Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton!

Richmond, Indiana, where the Ku Klux Klan once thrived, where a hotel houses a collection of framed and mounted gaudy neckties donated by visiting Agway distributors and Kiwanis Club conventioneers, where the local history museum proudly displays one of only two honest-to-goodness Egyptian mummies in residence in the entire Hoosier State, which back in the 1920s and 1930s proudly proclaimed itself “The Lawnmower Capital of the World” — and where great bluesmen and great jazz musicians gave birth to great music at Gennett Records, “The Cradle of Recorded Jazz.”

Here’s Big Bill Broonzy:

Here’s Hoagy Carmichael singing “Stardust”:

Here’s Uncle Dave Mason:

Here’s Charley Patton singing “High Water Blues”:

And here’s Blind Lemon Jeffersonm, speaking for us all, singing “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”: