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Zachary Smith as Curly in "Oklahoma."
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Fourth of July in D.C.
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On the set of Gods and Generals.
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The Smiths at the Barter with Roadside Theater
All the hoopla regarding the death of Whitney Houston, the Grammys and some recent experiences of my own have been rattling around in my brain (think of an empty tin can with a bee bee in it) today as I try for the upteenth time to figure out why making art is such an addiction, blessing and curse. Sadly, the death of Whitney Houston doesn't surprise me. The first thought I had when I heard of her demise was the word "Icarus". You know, the guy who flew too close to the Sun. The girl was blessed with pipes that only God, good genes and training can give. I am sure that her ability to sing with the power, subtlety and interpretive understanding she displayed had to come from all parts of her psyche, and experience. 
The hard part, in my small opinion, was living with the demands that kind of talent placed on her, and the demons. Singing was the easy part. Being Whitney Houston (insert Elvis, Graham Parsons, Keith Whitley, Fredie Prince, and hundreds of others) was the hard part. From my own small perspective, the hard part is all those other hours in the day when art's creation has to give way to the other stuff. And anyone who had flown as close to the Sun as Ms Houston did was living a life of unreality. Most of the details are handled by staff, which leads to isolation and boredom. Isolation leads to life inside a protected bubble that doesn't allow for much true human interaction. Problems are smoothed over, not solved. Individualism often gives way to a perceived character that can become a cartoon of one's self. Dangerous stuff when you add easily obtained drugs, alcohol, misplaced love (I wonder what Bobby Brown is thinking this week) into the mix.  Unfortunately, in Ms. Houston's case it led to an early death in a hotel room far away from her home. Loneliness can be a terminal thing. That is sad under any circumstances. It is also the life of a professional performer on the road. That potential is always there. I can understand the wide range of reactions I see on facebook and in the media. Yes, we make too much of a possibly drug addicted singer's death. No, I do not think that being artistically talented makes anyone more important than anyone whose talents lie in other areas. We all have our talents, demons and ways of dealing with life. Yes there are regular folks who passed away this weekend and certainly the deaths of our military personnel should be remembered with equal sadness. I agree with all of that.
But...
In this screwed up world we live in (has it ever not been that way) art, of any kind, is often the thing that helps many of us make some sense of it all. For some folks it is sports (often theater of a grand scale and drama) for others it is hunting, fishing, sailing, (insert the thing that you love just because you love it) or being in the audience as it happens. 
 
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Big Theater in Green Bay, WI











It really doesn't matter. What ever it is that resonates with a person to a point that it helps them get through their life, to me is art. It is also as flawed at times as the people who make it. That is what makes it special. Whitney Houston, and again insert your name of choice from Walter Payton to Edgar Allen Poe, was, with all her failings, special. As are all of us humans.
RIP
Onward.
OK... so I don't make great art, nor am I a great artist. I wang away at it and what comes out is a lot like sausage. The problem is... I like sausage. 

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Storytelling and music at Lynchburg's Point of Honor
And I just can't seem to get away from making it every chance I get. Whether it is the music I play; the words I write, the lighting designs I used to do or the theater based historical storytelling, something resonates inside of me every time I engage in the process.
Being an artist  (what ever the heck that is) is such a pain in the butt. I look at my facebook pages, which is where I connect with a deep dark past in the arts and the people who I have worked with over the years. I see many of us who are still intimately involved in artistic processes of all types.


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The Dixie Bee Liners
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The Wolfe Brothers at the Barter
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Dr. Ralph Stanley and Porter Wagoner at The Hills of Home shortly before Porter's death.
There are a few of us who have actually made livings at our art, or arts. Most of us have either starved at it or had to work day jobs to support our artistic habits. 
Interestingly enough, most of us who have worked in some form of professional art form during our lives are still doing it. 
Still gigging after all these years.
Lately I have been doing a bit of that at local venues. I have gotten tired of sitting in my chair and pickin' by myself so I am now inflicting that pain on others. I went over to Lays Hardware in Coeburn a couple of weeks ago to the Thursday night jam and had a ball. Last Thursday I went up to Wise and jammed at the open mike at the new Troubadour venue that is connected with The Tavern In Wise.

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Pickin' at The Troubadour
A couple of things were true of that experience. One, I was the oldest cat in the joint.
Two, it was fun. It has been a long time since I have just hung around with other musicians and played. Was it chaos at times, yup. Did I like, or understand, all the music (Thrash, Power Rock and my favorite, Life Sucks Rock) no. But, it was fun to be a part of. If we are ever to have a music scene like this area had in the past, we are going to have to let everyone in on the game. 

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Us old folks are going to have to suck it up and let the kids play. That is how I, and most of my contemporaries learned how to gig. Music joints are few and far between in this age of "No Fun Allowed." Theaters are closing, as are galleries and museums because they can't afford to stay open. We need to support them when we can, share our own work at them and have a good time. And, buy a beer, cup of coffee or a bite to eat at them so that they can keep the place open. There I said it... beer. Yes, music, and a lot of other art, is occasionally alcohol fueled. It is the only way, other than door charges or donations, that a place can get the cash to afford to keep the place open and the lights on, not to mention pay staff and the musicians something. Artists of all types are usually the last to get paid in the deal. There is this interesting notion that an actor, painter, sculptor or musician does their art purely for the love of it and doesn't need to eat, pay bills, etc. When I figure out how to live on love, I will be writing one last blog and going to the happy place. Until then I, and my many artist friends will be working when we can, paying bills when we can, and having fun when we can. 
Just like everybody else. 

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A good night was had by all.
By the way, these pictures at The Troubadour were taken by Lisa Milanese from Big Stone Gap. She, like the rest of us was doing her art... and doing it well. Check her work out on facebook. She's good!
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Comments

02/26/2012 07:43

I have not heard the death of Whitney Houston put into better persective. Great blog! And thank you for the compliment.

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Joe Bastedo
03/07/2012 09:10

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, especially the part about what it takes to make a music scene grow. Developing musicians is a hard task in an are4a that has no social outlet for musicians to congregate. Thank you for supporting the endeavor at Troubadour, your presence and friendship is always welcome there!
Peace Brother.

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04/21/2017 22:03

Recently I have been doing a touch of that at neighborhood scenes. I have become sick of sitting in my seat and pickin' independent from anyone else so I am presently exacting that torment on others. I headed toward Lays Hardware in Coeburn half a month prior to the Thursday night stick and painted the town. Last Thursday I went up to Wise and stuck at the open mike at the new Troubadour scene that is associated with The Tavern In Wise.

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04/21/2017 23:02

The critical step, as I would like to think, was living with the requests that sort of ability put on her, and the evil spirits. Singing was the simple part. Being Whitney Houston (embed Elvis, Graham Parsons, Keith Whitley, Fredie Prince, and several others) was the crucial step. From my own particular little point of view, the critical step is each one of those different hours in the day when craftsmanship's creation needs to offer route to the next stuff. What's more, any individual who had flown as near the Sun as Ms Houston did was carrying on with an existence of falsity.

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    Life 
    On 
    A Twisted Trail,
    A Blog
    By H W. "Bill" Smith

    Writing is something that I have always loved doing and anyone  who knows me knows that I have more than my share of opinions on a variety of subjects. 
    My goal is to write about the history, music, culture, life and events that shape the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains where I live... and anything else that tickles my fancy. Join me on this ride down "A Twisted Trail."

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