Monday, August 10, 2009

American Rivers - Series of Dreams #11

We named them for Indians
Our guilt to forsake
The Delaware, the Blackfoot
The Flathead and Snake
Now they flow past Casinos and Hamburger stands
They are waving farewell to the kid on the land….
With their jig-sawed old arteries
All clogged and defiled
No open heart miracle's
Gonna turn 'em back wild.

It's the river towns which attract me. Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, Kansas City.
Even Manhattan and old El Paso. I tell European folks, planning to travel the U.S.; aim for a river town like Pittsburgh or Portland and you might still find an America of used book stores, local radio stations and a cafe cooking real food. Maybe. There might be a butcher, a baker and a candle stick maker. You might dissolve into another America. The towns that clang with the "rhymes and the rattles of the runaway trains, and the songs of the cowboys, and the sound of the rain." Towns like the poetry out of Carl Sandburg's song bag. Hog Butchers of the world! Stormy, husky, brawling city of the big shoulders. The sunsets look different from an old iron bridge over the Monongahela. Help you conjure up Huckleberry Finn and Ramblin Jack Elliott singing "912 Greens." Towns with voices. New Orleans on a Friday night: "With the wind blowin' off the Mrs. Miller river"….to quote Ramblin Jack. Not speaking of nostalgia, here, so much as a heart-pounding attempt to find where the music still flows in the "weird old America" of clogged rivers and empty factories. The America which has lost it's "Old Man River" Voice. Did it all die with Walt Disney? Meredith Wilson? Kerouac? Thomas Wolfe? Crazy Horse? Edward Abbey? Early Randy Newman? Harper Lee? Mark Twain? Joseph Mitchell? Fred Neil? Walt Whitman? The Band? Stephen Foster?

Past towns gone to bankers
And fields gone to seed
All cut up and carved out
Divided by greed
And old grandfather catfish
With his whiskers so long
And his life is a struggle
Cause the oxygen's gone….

Naw, there aint no more cane on the Brazos. But there's many a river that waters the land. Some nights my dreams float and roll along to the poetry of old folk songs, and there's always a river involved. Shenandoah to the Rio Grande. And a kid is always sleeping on the riverbank, near an old Chinese graveyard. It's me. Never figured what it means. Can songs and dreams really be explicated? Naw. Only rhymed and sung. Over and over. A river is a carrier of dreams. "The water is wide…I can’t make it over…nor do I have…the wings to fly." We are stuck inside the river dream. For a moment. "Until human voices wake us, and we drown….." (Eliot.)

(This is song #11 in a series of dreams…song sketches from the coming album: Blood and Candle Smoke. Coming to a drive-in theater near you….soon.)


editor said...

Never really thought of it that way, but Portland does retain an identity and many of its good things — used book stores, bars and cafes — because it is still a river town.

Anonymous said...

Is it really the rivers? Most of the great cities of the world are built on bodies of water, be they rivers, lakes or oceans.

You want character, you want weirdness, go to a college town (with the possible exception of Provo/Orem - it's got its own kind of weirdness, but probably not what you're looking for...). You'll find it living side-by-side with the fast food nation.

Hang out in Harvard Square, Ber(zer)keley, Austin, yes even Portland.

Even college towns are changing, though. Clubs closing down. Legendary places: The Rat in Boston, Jonathan Swift's in Harvard Square now long gone - maybe more a comment on the state of the music scene than anyhting else. Passim somehow lives on. Saw Odetta there somethime in the early 80s. But now I'm waxing nostalgic...

Neil Crabtree said...

Seems like tones of Karla Bonoff and John Hiatt in the blog, and pure TR in the song. What great lyrics!

But don't give up on America yet. Mordor is only recently overthrown.
Let's see what we can do in the next 8 years. And pray for Sarah Palin to run against us. The Onion and The Daily Show need her help.

Unknown said...

As great as Guadalupe is, this is my favorite song of the bunch. Sacrilege, I know.

jeffreyjeff said...

Provo might be the weirdest college town in the country. You want character, come up to Ogden, at the confluence of the Weber and Ogden Rivers. of course...

Saddle Tramp said...


You know how I feel about lists ... however, this is as good a start as any ... Not one that I would dismiss ... More on rivers later.

Neil has his secrets ( not clear on the references ) but my wholehearted agreement on the songs. Alice Neel reveals Joe Gould's other [secret] in comical undress ...

The beginning of a river against my windshield now ...

saddle tramp

Via: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Saddle Tramp said...

RIVERS ( cont'd )

River roads ...

I've run 'em in the deadly grip of winter and in the sweet embrace of spring and all times between ...

Runnin' across North Dakota on I-94 and past TR National Park, picking up the longest undammed river in the lower 48 ... The Yellowstone River. Miles City, Montana and the ghost of Charles Russell. On through Billings buttoning
onto I-90 and down through Butte and Missoula. Crossing The Clark Fork again and again along it's zig-zagging course. Crossing over Look Out Pass and on across Idaho into Washington and down to Walla Walla. Leaving Walla Walla and down along The Snake and then into Oregon and the finest drive along a river you will ever take. Down
through The Columbia River Gorge with Mt. Hood looming large and unmistakable above it all. You follow I-84 on it's majestic trail into Portland and all the rest.

The Great Platte River Road ...

You get Teddy Blue, Buffalo Bill & Jim Bridger just to mention a few ... Regarding " American Rivers " Bridger said that a fish could swim from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean by rivers ... U.S. Hwy 26 takes you along The North Platte up by Chimney Rock that the Indians
more appropriately called " Elk's Penis ". Just another example of revisionist history. A side note: The Mt. Rushmore area was actually called The Grandfathers by the Indians long before the sculpture was conceived. Prescient ...

Salt River Canyon ...

Picking up U.S. Hwy 60 off U.S. Hwy 54 out of Santa
Rosa, New Mexico down through all those pueblo ruins, Soccorro, Magdalena , Pie Town and Omega. It feels like the end of the world ... On into Arizona and Show Low (also by way of Fort Apache) and then camping out on a safety pullout on the rim of Salt River Canyon and the river some 2,200 feet below. The next morning crawling around
the curves with the Jake Brake howling ... crossing the new (and non-descript) bridge that parallels the still extant but out of commision old curving work of art that arches over The Salt River at the bottom of the canyon. Navajos sell their jewelry at the rest area that hovers above the river.
Then the slow climb back out of the canyon and down to
Globe and the copper mining town of Superior and on up through Queen Creek Canyon and then finally back on flat ground on the mega- freeway, The Superstition Freeway and into Phoenix for the fifteenth time ...

Just a few of my favorite river roads to run ...

saddle tramp

Via : Cedar Rapids, Iowa after running Hwy 61, The Great River Road of Wisconsin and Iowa en route from Black
River Falls, Wisconsin down through the heart of small town America and American Rivers and The Holy Ghost Park in Dickeyville, Wi ... Hwy 61, like small towns across America needs repair work. I hope she gets it ... Crossing Old Man River into Dubuque, Iowa and a classic river town; old brick factories , spires and spires and The Julien
Inn ( since 1839 ).

Charlene said...

Can't wait for the album and this song too!! With every post I get more and more excited!

Talk about rivers. My kids and I drove from upper Michigan through Canada onto Toronto and Niagara Falls for summer vacation.

There were so many many rivers. Out here the crosses are on the roads to remember the people, but up there they had crosses actually out in the rivers.

I got so excited every time we passed over a river. And the magnificant bridges, oh the bridges. There is one in Buffalo that lights up like a rainbow at night and turns colors just like the Canadian Falls.

Being used to this desert, all those rivers made me a little nervous. They were so full of water, I thought, one more rain shower and surely everything from Michigan to Buffalo would be washed away. But somehow it all works, day after day, season after season, again and again.

Mr. Russell, if you have the new CD in Albuquerque can you reserve one for me? I'm planning on being there.



espanol said...

Saddle Tramp,

A friend and I are heading West to find some real Americana on a road trip before work/responsibilities resume. We're destined for South Dakota, and will be passing through Wisconsin/Minnesota early next week. You seem to know this area well, judged by reading your posts, and I'm wondering if you could give us some advice on where to find the real side of America out there. Some good, unspoiled river towns.

Thanks for your help, and to any other readers that can give some tips.


Saddle Tramp said...

ac ...

It is difficult to offer adequate travel advice based on information given. Time allowed and your routing, etc. I've run it up & down and all across. I will offer a couple of way points. If you are running IH-90, let's say from Chicago, I would break off onto U.S. Hwy 20 out of Rockford, IL taking it over to Galena, IL where 80% of this river town is on the National Historic Register, including of course; U.S. Grant's home. Been there several times. You are only another 15 miles to Dubuque, Iowa and the Mississipi River and Dylan's Hwy 61. Take your choice working your way back up to IH-90 either on the Iowa / Minnesota side or the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River or zig-zag if you prefer. Trempealeau, Wisconsin is just a short ride
from LaCrosse and is about as unspoiled as you are going
to get. The Historic Trempealeau Hotel ( since 1871 ) with restaurant & saloon is on the river. As far as the Holy Grail goes, to each his own. I've crossed the Mississipi in every state it runs through and run up along side It for a mighty
good ways too and it always brings something with it. We'll
see what it brings for you. Like a Tom Russell song it's
bound to take you further along ...
River towns, river roads & river songs ...
Have a safe trip ac ...

saddle tramp

Via: The TA in Parowan, Utah

espanol said...

Saddle Tramp,

Thank you very much for your advice. I've been looking forward to heading out this way for years.

We have around a day and a half to make it from Chicago to Rapid City, would like spend some time Hwy 61, and also see some of those historic river towns you describe. Given this information, what routes would you travel?

Much thanks again,

Saddle Tramp said...

AC ...

I sure hope that I'm not heading into a box canyon here but here I go ...
If you're willin' to chance your limited time I would still suggest heading west on U.S. Hwy 20 and follow it to Dubuque stopping along the way as you can. Go up the Iowa / Minnesota side of the river up to IH-90 and points beyond if time allows. You are on a short rope ... Otherwise you better stay on the big road and spend your time in South Dakota ...

Free advice is worth what you pay for it so you might follow
the advice of one even more familiar with the river and it's towns :

" Self education is the best kind "

- Mark Twain

Enjoy your trip AC ...

saddle tramp

Via: N. Las Vegas heading to Viva Zapata's for lunch en route to Mira Loma, CA.

Unknown said...

Saddle Tramp said:

"Runnin' across North Dakota on I-94 and past TR National Park, picking up the longest undammed river in the lower 48 ... The Yellowstone River. Miles City, Montana and the ghost of Charles Russell. On through Billings buttoning
onto I-90 and down through Butte and Missoula. "

In '02 my wife and our singing trio partner drove from Vermont to Bozeman, MT, so see our kids and play a set at the Sweetpea festival to cover part of the travel expenses. We were taking two cars, to deliver one to my daughter. We made about 850 miles the last day, Fergus Falls, MN, to Bozeman. Just inside Montana, where I-94 stops being straight and starts following the Yellowstone, there was a big sign, saying, of course, "Yellowstone River." I got on the walkie-talkie and said to the other two: "...Soon this dreadful enterprise shall be ending for us all..."


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Unknown said...

Speaking of rivers and vacations, I just went with my family to Niagara Falls and we stayed at the short term furnished rentals (NYC located apartment) for the whole duration of the family vacation.

Though I've been here in America for a very long time, I've never been to Niagara Falls, and that's why it was an awesome experience when we went there. Also, thanks to the vacation apartment rentals (New York City) we stayed at, we saved a lot of money, while living in style.