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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: mexico

My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer.  He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel.  I’m making a rain barrel out of mine.  To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters.  That’s what I did this past weekend.  Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel.  It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.

So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company.  We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system.  The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder.  I said, “Suck it, man.”

No, of course I didn’t.

We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities.  It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have).  Cutting wastewater will help the cost.  It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill.  They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it.  No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.

Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs.  We’re working on improvements.  On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden.  My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life.  After the inner city lollypop adventure.

I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker.  It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:

“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”

In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.”  It was very fresh on my mind.  Maybe I’ve sold 100.  It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money.  I was very disappointed with that.

There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling.  Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.

If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground.  In the evenings, I’d sing to it.  In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel.  Ashley could paint what she wants.  Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.

To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico.  Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.

I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not.  My trouble with sales needs working out.

Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market.  Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category.  I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract.  The bank wants to start a “relationship.”  They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.

At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly.  I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment.  Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way.  He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales.  I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling.  Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling).  I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up.  I have tomatoes now, too.

I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them.  People have to insist, and insist at least twice.  Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan?  No.  Those CDs carry lifeblood.  To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue.  I’ve given away well over 1000.  They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale.  Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it.  It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs.  Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.

That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.”  My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.”   It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.


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I was just making fresh pesto for tonight’s Food For All.  Pesto for twenty and it can’t be eaten yet, basil is precious right now.

Then I was staring at two extra garlic cloves, peeled and sitting in a bowl.  My friend Edwin in Mexico taught me a trick.  It’s too early to call a habit.

Bite the garlic and chase it with hot, black coffee.

It burned a lot less today than I remembered.  I grabbed some fiery mustard and a jar of banana peppers (the fridge is rather well stocked with condiments right now).  I ate a couple peppers and swigged coffee, reminiscing.  Ashley can’t or won’t talk to me the rest of the day when I do this.

For the second clove, I buried it in mustard and threw it back like a grape.  I reached for the coffee and chased.  Slamming the fiesta ware on the formica,  I exhaled fire.  It stung my eyes.  Then came tightness of the chest and the back of my neck began to sweat.  Gosh I miss Edwin.

Then in a few seconds it passed.  I am getting stronger.

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I had a song come to me in a dream once, nearly in its entirety.  Countless times I wake up with a lyric or a piece of an idea to scratch out, but I’m not talking about that .  On New Years Day of 2010 I woke up in my brother’s bed, near Louisville, Kentucky.  The new years party from the night before had been family friendly and my head was clear.

The house was asleep; Ryan and his wife (Ashley), my Ashley, plus a few dozen children bundled up with small animals.  I reached for my ipod and typed out a note that was as if I’d already sung it before.  The feeling was surreal and impossible not to describe as hopeful.

A little bit about songwriting: songs are seeds.  A finished song is a small bit of matter that only the author has witnessed.  It only exists in the time between start and finish, and only on the days when the author plays it.  It has no significance and must be enacted or it will be forgotten.

Until it is heard.  When a song is familiar to someone else, it begins an existence other than itself.

With my homemade recordings and videos, I try to make songs tangible.  When people spend their time to sit with and consider my music, I am grateful.  However you may find it, I’m glad you listen.



We who were born yesterday we haven’t cut it out

Haven’t fallen down enough I fear

I’d say that many times we pulled a favor in

Had a better chance to win by sex or skin

We who were born yesterday we’ll have it in our hands

Be busy with the plans we made from here

And I hope it’s better in our 1984

Than token social gospels we’ve seen before

We who were born yesterday we can’t take all the blame

Like a river can’t be tamed by those downstream

It’s a shame that a no good dog, he doesn’t know his name

Only knows he came like all the yesterdays

And I hope it’s better, there’s parts I would repeat

I’ll keep my mouth wide open and I’ll move my feet

Clocks will strike and hammers fall, the iron oligarch

Sovereign patriarchs upon the wall

If you wake in a marble cave, don’t try to conversate

Better get away under another name

Don’t be caught on the borderline of brotherhood and hate

Throw me in an open grave, put me in a better place

And I hope it’s better, time is borrowed

They’ll look back for answers in a day or so

We who were born yesterday we’ll get a chance to play,

We will have a say, we will point the way

We who were born yesterday we’ll have it in our hands

Just a little sand and a broken wave

And I hope its better and I hope to find

That hope is worth the effort and faith was right

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It’s good to be home.  It’s good to be 60 degrees and be home, I should say.  Fondly I remember those last couple of days, burning the last of our wood, purging the cabinets, and trying to dry laundry with a space heater and a woodstove.  I baked enough bread and prepared enough quinoa to fuel the three days down to the U.S. border and almost had enough to get us right back.  We spent five days in and out of the Johnson City medical center before driving off at midnight to Charlotte to make a 6:00 am international flight.  Three flights later we were in Chiapas, with perfect timing for respective bachelor/bachelorette parties that lasted until the wee hours of the next morning.  Plum tar’d out.

The two following weeks in Mexico we won’t recap, but I did eat grasshoppers and should report that they had the consistency of soggy popcorn and the flavor of socks.  In the face of opportunity, I just had to make myself.  In the event of necessity I won’t hesitate.  Don’t believe anything you hear about Mexico unless it comes from

We arrived back in Charlotte too late and too beat to drive.  You couldn’t have injected espresso into my neck to make me do it.  We opted for the accommodations of nearby American Value Travel Inn.  There was an Exon nearby and all their junk food was American, too.

Charlotte is home of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art as well as the Mint Museum, both of which are on the same membership reciprocal as our very own Knoxville Museum of Art, meaning we got to go for free.  The exhibits of these museums were so inspiring that Ashley said, and I quote, “You couldn’t have put a price on that motel room to make it worth today, because you can’t quantify the value of viewing art.”  That’s the same thing I said when we were watching HBO in the room.

We left Charlotte and headed ten miles south to South Carolina, just to get coffee and for me to pick up a rock.  If I may indulge for a moment, I can’t be sure I’ve ever been to S.C. despite having lived in nearby East Tennessee for some time.  Every other contiguous U.S. state I’ve visited on one road trip or another and I simply had to know if I knew my country or not.  Then at last we headed to Bristol, to see Ashley’s dad now nearly three weeks out of open heart surgery.

Highways 321 and 421 cross some of the most beautiful country of Appalachia.  Across the Blueridge Parkway, through Boone, N.C., then the Cherokee National Forest before the hills of Tennessee.  You want your arrival home to meet you with its own confidence, no matter where you’ve been or how long you’ve been gone.

Sunday afternoon, assured that Glen would soon be doing bench presses, we headed for Knoxville.  And like a month earlier, received another phone call.  Glen’s oldest brother was in the hospital in Bluefield, WV.  We turned around to get Glen and headed up to where the Addair family was filling the hallways in a small hospital high upon a shaved mountain top.  Ashley was born in that very facility.

You may have heard me tell of how the Addair’s induct a boyfriend into the family.  Here’s a shot of me and my foe, much more amicable today than those early visits of mine to Grandmother’s hill in Tazewell, Virginia.  This is Brian, which has one syllable like “Brine,” and to most he is also endearingly called Fathead.  We went two rounds in red gloves on the side of a mountain one day.  I won.  Sympathy, that is.

If you want to read, I told it before: “If you’re going to be stupid you’ve got to be tough”

We’re back in Knoxville, nearly two days now.  I’m trying to keep calm and be efficient.  We’re putting our heads down and getting to work, which means Ashley hasn’t unpacked but she’s spent fifteen hours in front of a canvas.  I put new strings on my guitars and am rehearsing for a show tomorrow night.  We don’t like to go this long without our brushes and instruments, even though we packed them.  Once we left the house a month ago, we just kept ourselves flexible and in between the ditches, as my Pappaw would say.

Old Paperville near Bristol, TN

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Jay-Z (The Blueprint 3) ]

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This video was shot during a day with Edwin, my friend and good doctor in Mexico, who sees patients in a government clinic high up in the hills of Chiapas.  The little town of El Bosque could one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The people are shy, but friendly.  The man in this video said, “Of course you can film, maybe then we’ll get more medicine.”

The roads and infrastructure make this clinic a difficult place to maintain normality.  Edwin has a one hour leeway for the drive each morning.  The fog can hide the hood of the car.  No guard rails.  In the rainy season the roads are rivers.

Edwin told me of a man who’s foot was so swollen with infection that he had to cut it open to find the piece of wood, punctured through it weeks before.  About once a month he delivers a baby, often alongside the customary methods of the village midwife.  She uses homemade medicines when available, Pepsi when they are not.  Tuberculosis is common.  Edwin typically sees twenty patients a day and there is no cost for the care or the medicine.

Edwin's kitchen


In West Virginia, my Aunt Gwinnie can get somebody lost with only three right turns.  You’ll be just ten crow miles from Bluefield and never know it, but mountains are like that.  Edwin put his instruments away and we climbed back down the beanstalk.  The sun unset from its precipice and the forest returned to dark.  I imagine El Bosque saw the last light.  We were over Tuxtla Gutierrez and then falling into it, Edwin on his way home from a day at his job, and me bouncing in the other chair like I’d just discovered the color green.

If you like the video, please feel free to share it.  The song is for free download above at the “Free Music” link, as is the entire EP in mp3s.  My first two EPs are there for free as well, so get them as well.  Please help me spread the word.

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(by Levon who is listening to Carlos Baute “Quien te quiere como yo”)

Good byes are tough and I don’t like them.  Sometimes I don’t say them, and I don’t mean to mean to be rude, I’m pretending we’ll bump into each other tomorrow.  Even if one of us is soon to be boarding a plane.  Ashley and I said a rough good bye yesterday to very special people.  Jessica and Edwin, thank you for inviting us to your beautiful wedding.  Diana and Amilkar, thank you for your hospitality.

Diana, we listened to the Salsa and Bachata mix you made all across North Carolina and decided to translate our favorite, “Obsession.”  Edwin, I’m going to begin working on our documentary for National Geographic tomorrow.

And to everyone from Kentucky who were given a chance to reunite, you’re always welcome in Knoxville.

Everybody at Interlink, sorry I didn’t say bye.  Thanks for letting me come out for a bit and share Kentucky grammar.

The best things about Mexico: the colors of walls, latin music, names of tortillerias, old volkswagons, rugged landscapes, datsun stationwagons, spanish bad words, micheladas, howler monkeys, sol beer chairs and street trees that drop mangos.



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