Farewell, Joe Gracey

Back in the ’90s there was a sort of underground movement bubbling up in cities all around the country, people cooking up lively mixtures of old country, old time rock, punk, R&B, blues and god knows what other rootsy music. A lot of us were playing it, whether mostly singing to lonely campfires in the desert or open-mic nights (as in my case) or in bands that people actually crowded into venues to see. And we liked to talk about it day after day on a listserv called Postcard2. (Remember listservs? – I realize that listservs are now an ancient and dead form of internet community, dinosaurs from an earlier geological area of the world wide web.) Before it descended into petty feuds, rampant snarkiness and cliques, P2 was a wild and rich place, full of stories of new songs and new bands from around the country, new music heard, people seen. Most of the folks were twenty- or thirtysomething wannabes, but occasionally a few wiser old hands joined in and lit fireworks under all our excitement and self-importance.

One of my faves was Joe Gracey, who seemed to have sprung out of (or else cultivated) the Austin music scene from its first inspirations of promise in the 1970s to the center of the party it had become by the 1990s. Joe loved to talk and rant about all kinds of things. A lot of it was about music he liked and didn’t like, especially music made by his wife Kimmie Rhodes (a talented singer-songwriter and all-around artist), often weighing in with a contrarian’s megaphone and halting the list’s worst stupidity. (I remember one day in particular where a number of posters were ranting about the Dixie Chicks “selling out” – they had made the “mistake” of becoming popular – and he shut it all down with a short comment, “I love the Dixie Chicks and I hope they make a ton of money.”) He also wrote about playing bass on this or that album, producing albums, what he was making for dinner that day, the bottle of wine he planned to open. When he posted about his day it had all the glee of a young kid screaming with joy on a wild roller-coaster ride.

A friend just passed on a note that Joe passed away from cancer this morning, cancer he had been fighting for years. Little did I know; maybe he mentioned it on a day I wasn’t tuned in. I just read this profile of him, published in Austin this past summer while he was on his last round of cancer treatment. Little did I realize that he hadn’t spoken a word since 1978, when he lost his tongue and larynx to cancer. At age 28. The “talking” he used to do on the listserv was the only kind of talking he had done since then. And how he could taste food without a tongue and after so much surgery on his mouth is a mystery, but his posts on food were so mouthwatering I often had to go upstairs and get something to eat. He was not a man to let his cancer deprive him of the goodness of life. (One of his last blog posts, written from his hospital in Houston in August, reads “Hello from Chemoland!”) The catch phrase he is often remembered by from his radio days is “Another day in Paradise!”

Folks like Joe remind us what it means to live a life well. He wasn’t well-known, but my observation is that most of the people who live well are too busy living to get themselves known broadly. Over his decade on the radio and his continued years in and around Austin, he touched multitudes. To share a bit of life with a guy like him is to have your own life lifted. He will be missed.


Ensuring Our Kids Can Have Pizza and Fries by the Shovelful

We all know that Republicanism stands for conservatism, and that means conserving all of the good progress we made over the last decade (before you-know-who came and wrecked everything). And that includes conserving our progress in becoming (as comedian Lewis Black has said) “the fattest f*cks on the planet.”

The USDA, under the Obama administration, had written new nutritional guidelines for school lunches to ensure that subsidized student lunches would be more healthy, in particular, prohibiting tomato sauce and french fries from being counted as vegetables. Kind of important, especially given that the number of students being provided free or subsidized lunches has steadily increased over the past three decades and the kind of crap we’ve been feeding them has been a health hazard in itself. But Republicans in Congress are fighting hard against this change, fighting for your childrens’ right to pizza and french fries and obesity! This week they passed a new appropriations bill that rolls Continue reading

What the Elders Sent You

For years, my wife has teased me about having thinning hair. My daughter has teased that my pillow is the hairy one on the bed. Yes, my hair is a washed-out gray color of old paving, but at least I have lots of it for samples. This was patently untrue. This summer on a family vacation a bunch of us got into a long harangue about whether baldness was handed down from which grandparent and who had it and what was therefore proof of who in our family was doomed. I think I deliberately let myself get confused following the heredity argument so that I wouldn’t have to know. It should have been a clue.

Tonight I looked in the hotel mirror and see – cripes! – that through the front where I put in that Aveda floral gel juice stuff to curl it, I can indeed see twinges of my scalp. Damn! First I turn 50 (well, a year ago) and then everything goes to hell. And now this on top of it. One more prop to my oversized ego crashes down in cinders. Sigh.


The thing in my life I work hardest at is being a good father. That’s not to say that I am a good father, just that I spend a lot of time working at it, or at least worrying about it. This is probably in part because I had difficult relationships with my parents growing up, and partly because you don’t see all that many role models out there for being a great dad (whereas I’ve had the privilege to know a lot of amazing mothers in my life).

One of the conundrums for parents like me who’ve had the good fortune to earn a good living and therefore the ability to provide well . Most of my friends who have an easy, natural frugality or who really value what they have grew up in modest circumstances. I’m not referring here to the very typical topic of whether the load of giftwrapped boxes by the birthday cake or under the Christmas tree are too much, and whether my child is going to be a spoiled brat because of them. I’m talking about more subtle things; many of our friends, for example, work very hard, and therefore they have landscaping services and housekeeping services so that they can spend more time with their children (mostly carting them around from sport to arts program to sport, &c.– a topic for another post). That doesn’t feel like the right balance to me. Doing work that one loves with one’s children seems as important as playing or spending idle time with them.

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Emily Dickinson Comes to Heal Tucson

If you’re like me, you reacted to the January shooting of Gabrielle Giffords with shock and anger. Especially anger, especially after the talk radio and TV spin machine started churning in the days the followed.

Tucson poet and publisher Lisa Bowden had a wiser response. Instead of more anger and protest, she’s created a community event focused on getting more people to read and talk about poet Emily Dickinson. Thanks to numerous artists, dancers, theater and other community groups, Emily is all over Tucson. Real the full story in the Tucson Weekly, Kore Values.

I’m especially admiring of this because I’m lame when it comes to Ms. Dickinson’s work. I’ll read a poem and be awed. Multiple times I’ve picked up her complete poems, thinking to get it, and I get lost. Clearly some deep character flaw or brain defect. In any case, having artists to lead people like me into the depth of Emily Dickinson’s work is nothing but goodness.

For the things we love

I love fall. The leaves turning, the brisk mornings, all the change in the air put a zing in my nervous system. The leaves especially – every day the neighborhood, the drive to work are different in dramatic ways. I didn’t grow up with this – in the Bay Area, where summer often feels like winter and the nicest and warmest months are often April and September, trees get confused, randomly turning and dropping leaves at any time of the year. I once had a tree drop its leaves in March, when everything else was starting to bud.

Fall in Minnesota is heavenly, but after hauling 58 huge bags of leaves to dump on the compost heap in the city yard already, I was appalled to look out the kitchen window this morning and see how tall are the piles that my wife blew up against the back fence yesterday while the kids and I were clearing off the front. Ugh. So much for relaxing on a Sunday.

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Gratitude, continued

This morning my children and I were out in the woods at a local lake, waiting in the predawn twilight in hopes of seeing deer. We were out of luck on the deer; the kids had trouble sitting still in the dark and even so agreed that it was worth it to listen to the quiet and the wind rifling through the stiff grasses and the tweets and twitters of the early birds.

The sun finally cracked the horizon and we decided to take a hike down the trail that rings the lake. Suddenly out of the woods came a fanfare of horns, the harbinger of late fall. The trumpeter swans are back to Lake Rebecca from wherever they roam in northern Canada during the summer. They are a miracle every time I see them, and they make my heart jump with delight.

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