I just knew that my words about old-time music were going to come back and bite me because honestly- I do love some of it and I learned to love it from Doc Watson whom I first saw play in Denver, Colorado sometime around 1973. I saw him again in Tallahassee a few years later and he was blind and his beloved son, Merle, was always there to play with him and bring him onstage, Doc holding on to his son's shoulder to find his chair and sit down and then the magic began.
Here's a video from 1979 and it pretty much captures the way it was.
Doc died yesterday. He'd had a fall and they did surgery and well, I guess he just didn't have what it took to come back from that at the age of 89. A good age to die, especially if you've continued to do what you love to do and what brings the world joy right up to the end.
Doc had considered not playing anymore after his son Merle died at the age of 36 in 1985, but eventually, he picked up his guitar and somehow, even without Merle's strong shoulder, found his way back to the stage. He memorialized his son with a festival he hosted every year in North Carolina called MerleFest and it's the biggest acoustic music festival in the world and many of the musicians I love so much have played there. In recent years, Doc had been playing with Merle's son, his grandson Richard, and I know that must have made him so proud.
Doc was married to the same woman for sixty-five years, y'all. His darling Rosa Lee and I'm thinking about her today. How in the world do you accept the death of someone you've been through that much of life with? I have no idea.
So yes, I'm thinking about Rosa Lee today and I'm thinking about how homesick I was in Denver, Colorado as a girl of eighteen who had always thought she hated "country" music and how she felt when someone played her Will The Circle Be Unbroken, an album made by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with a score of older musicians and how true and fine Doc's voice and playing was. That girl cried and knew she had to get home, eventually, back to the south where the trees grew tall and music like that was born.
In a very interesting twist of fate, Bob Dylan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday and somehow, this all fits in and the circle will be unbroken and continues to be so.
If you had told me in 1973 that in my lifetime I would live to see a black president put a prestigious award around the neck of a 72-year old Bob Dylan on the same day that Doc Watson died, well, hell. I don't even know what I would have thought but it would probably have been something like, "Far out."
Which, actually, would have been pretty appropriate.
Look at Bob. You have to wonder what goes on in the mind behind those shades. I've listened to all his music for most of my life, seen him play three times and read his autobiography and I have no idea at all and neither do you and neither does anyone else. I hear that Obama had to coax him up to give him the award. "Come on, Bob."
Which is also appropriate.
All of this serves to remind me that I am one grateful woman to have lived during the times I have. Times when music exploded and genres got mixed and blues and bluegrass and rock and roll and classical, too, all came together in different forms and people like Doc Watson played Bob Dylan tunes and Bob Dylan sang with Johnny Cash and Keith Richards worshipped Chuck Berry and BB King came into world-wide prominence when he played in 1968 at the Newport Folk Festival and he, too, made me want to go home to the south and the south is where I am and most likely will always be, an old hippie woman who has had some mighty fine teachers, not least among them Bob Dylan and Doc Watson and yes, BB King who is still playing at the age of 87 and who pointed out that nobody loves me but my mama and she could be jiving me too.
And then of course, you have to throw in the fact that the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were alive and playing on Planet Earth during my lifetime and well...
But here I am in Lloyd at the age of fifty-seven, banging this out on a computer and Flopsy has laid her egg and wants back out of the coop to be with her flock and the day is proceeding on and I need to get busy so I can get to town to see my grandchildren.
Rest in peace, Doc.
Keep on playing Bob and BB and all the rest of you pickers and players and singers and know that you are doing god's work, doing exactly what you were put here on earth to do, to minister to the sad and lonely, the misplaced and displaced, to bring joy and tears and to make us dance.
Hell. For all I know, it's music that keeps the particles of this universe going.
They've kept my world going and that's for sure.
Nothing left to say except, Thank-you.
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart which, like the circle, has been broken and unbroken many, many times and most likely will continue to be so and I will be sustained always through the music.