Buddy Greene has been a working musician for over forty years. Like Flannery O’Connor, he hails from Middle Georgia, but unlike Flannery O’Connor, he has spent most of his adult life in Nashville. He first came here to play in Jerry Reed’s band. You remember Jerry Reed, no doubt, from the movie Smokey and the Bandit (he was Snowman). Buddy also toured for many years with the Gaithers.
He is probably best known as a harmonica genius, but he is also a great guitar picker and singer and has released a dozen or more solo albums. For my money, however, the most remarkable thing about Buddy Greene is his joy, which is as apparent in every interaction and obvious on stage. I started to describe Buddy’s joy as “irrepressible,” but in the interview below he speaks very honestly about a time his joy was repressed. Which is to say, he is also an authentic and humble man. Though I don’t see or talk to Buddy all that often, I am encouraged and edified every time I do. I want Buddy Greene to be my mentor, but I don’t really know how to ask him.
Thanks, Buddy, for being on “Sad Stories Told for Laughs.”
I’m glad to be here.
You’ve been performing for a long time. You’ve told me a couple of crazy stories about your early career—including a time you played in my hometown and were glad to get out of the Duck’s Breath Saloon alive. I trust that you find it easier to maintain your dignity now that you’ve been at it four decades. But from time to time do you still experience those moments of mortification that seem to be just a part of life for younger performers who are still trying to establish their careers?
Oh, actually, those moments never stop. They happen so often that I just forget about most of them. But there’s one that I love to recall because it sums up my career. It happened about ten years ago.
Nick Flora has toured for the past 13+ years with many different bands and as a solo artist in every conceivable place that music can be held. And a few inconceivable ones. He also hosts the podcast, “Who Writes this Stuff,” which, I am sorry to report, is coming to the end of its run.
Welcome, Nick Flora, to “Sad Stories Told for Laughs,” a hard-hitting interview series in which artists tell sad stories for the delectation and amusement of Rabbit Room readers.
I have so many laughably sad stories!
Let’s say you play 20 shows. How many of them produce laughably sad stories?
Easily five to seven.
Wow. That’s more than I would have thought.
There are always moments in each show that aren’t great. And then sometimes it’s the whole shebang—the perfect storm.
But are you saying you get five to seven anecdote-worthy atrocities out of every twenty shows?
In my many conversations with artists, I have noticed that a disproportionate number of their anecdotes—and most of their best ones—involve public humiliation. “Sad Stories Told for Laughs” is an interview series in which I ask artists to share their best stories of mortification and humiliation for the edification of Rabbit Room readers. My first guest is Andrew Osenga. Andrew has been making music for a long time, with the Normals (named for his hometown of Normal, Illinois—go Ironmen and Lady Ironmen!), Caedmon’s Call, and as a solo artist. He now has a nine-to-five job as a record executive in Nashville.
Welcome, Andy Osenga, to “Sad Stories Told for Laughs.”
Glad to be here.
Well, let’s get right to it. Have you ever experienced public humiliation?
So many times. As in, are we counting junior high or just professional career?
[Editor’s note: If only this had been written by John Bunyan . . .]
In the Foot Care Aisle
The foot care aisle at Walgreen’s maketh glad
The footsore souls who come to find relief—
Support for fallen arches, gel-filled pads
To cushion every podiatric grief.
My feet are sound and healthy, fungus-free,
But in the foot care aisle they ache to ache.
They itch to itch and burn so they might be
Soothed and eased and salved for comfort’s sake.
I contemplate my future and I smile.
Corns may mar my toes, a plantar’s wart my sole.
What then? I’ll come back to the foot care aisle.
I’ll manage with the help of Dr. Scholl.
Such pains are vague and far from where I stand,
But remedies are real and close at hand.
A few years back I was the copywriter on a team that was working on an ad campaign for a huge national organization. We were in a meeting one day with one of the higher-ups in the organization—the Director of Marketing, I think it was. In any case, he was high enough up to fire us if he wanted to, and he was talking like he wanted to. He was chewing us up one side and down the other for some ideas that he thought were terrible.
He took a quick bathroom break, leaving us at the table to give each other significant, raised-eyebrow looks.
When he came back to the table, the tirade picked up where it had left off. But from where I was sitting, I could see the man’s shoes. Black wingtips, glistening with drops of overspray from his peeing.
I felt ever so much better. Nothing he could say could hurt me. I wasn’t the one who had peed on my shoes.
Writing with Flannery O’Connor—my six-week online course—is starting Monday. Here’s the introductory lecture.
To register, click here.
One fine Easter weekend, having come home from graduate school, I stood in a field where waist-high egg hunters swirled like waterbugs. Their fathers and grandfathers stood in a knot and told each other stories, mostly about tractors they had known.
I stood a few steps outside the circle of men, my arms folded, and I thought to myself, “Ah, yes…here is how men construct community: by rendering experience into shared narrative.”
It makes me blush to admit that I ever entertained such a thought. Not because it’s untrue—for all I know, men do construct community by rendering experience into shared narrative. The embarrassing thing is that I stood outside that circle of men—at a critical distance—and thought I understood more about what they were doing than they understood themselves.
[This piece first appeared at Jonathan-Rogers.com.]
Until recently, my in-laws had a farm in South Georgia. When they bought the place, its charms weren’t altogether obvious to the casual observer. It was scrubby where it wasn’t planted in pines and swampy where it wasn’t scrubby. But my father-in-law made it the work of twenty years to beautify the place.
When he planted pines, he planted longleaf, the tree that once shaded all of South Georgia–indeed, the tree that towered over nearly every mile of Hernando Desoto’s path from Florida through the Deep South to the Mississippi River.
By the time my father-in-law was born, the longleaf had been logged to near-extinction; when the trees were replaced at all, they were replaced by faster-growing slash and loblolly pines, which produce income twice as fast as longleaf, but always fall well short of the longleaf’s native majesty. Much of South Georgia’s wealth and beauty had once been attached to the longleaf pines, before they were felled and floated down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha to the ocean, then shipped away to be the ribs of great buildings far away from Georgia. My father-in-law loves his native country; no wonder he planted longleaf. If they take forty years to grow to maturity—well, then, they take forty years. He is a man of imagination and hope.
The drunkest man I ever saw was a mailman. I had gone down to the Echeconnee Creek with my fishing pole and was startled at the sight of him slumped against a bridge piling. There was always trash under the bridge at the Echeconnee—beer cans and fast food wrappers thrown from passing cars, old tires and broken palettes, the remains of campfires. I mistook the mailman at first for a pile of something left on the bank by the latest flood. I might have passed right by him if he hadn’t moaned and raised his head when I was five steps away.
He fixed me with heavy-lidded yellow-brown eyes. Black hair hung in limp, greasy hanks on either side of a face as rutted and hollowed out as a strip mine. He was still in his post office uniform; but it wasn’t the crisp, pressed uniform of an on-duty letter carrier. He had obviously been wearing it for many days. It was dingy and wrinkled and covered in sand. The blue cap with the eagle logo lay cockeyed on the ground beside him. The man was small and wiry. His small uniform hung loose on his frame, as if he had lost weight since it was first issued.
The mailman’s head swayed on unsteady shoulders, and he blinked slowly as he mumbled and slurred something in my direction.
[Editor’s note: Jonathan Rogers not only writes great books, tells humorous anecdotes, and wears bowties and seersucker suits, he also teaches literature at New College Franklin, teaches online writing classes (which you can join here), and now he’s even teaching the entire internet how to improve its writing in his new series of youtube videos. Enjoy!]
Last April I ran the Music City Half-Marathon with my fifteen-year-old son. I ran most of it, anyway. Between Mile Marker 10 and Mile Marker 11 I decided I’d had as much fun as I could stand and sent my son on ahead while I walked a little, trotted a little, walked some more.
I was walking, and not very briskly, near the foot of Capitol Hill when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “You can do this,” said a woman’s voice. “Don’t walk. Run.” I looked to see who my encourager was, but I didn’t recognize her as she passed. I could see that she was a few years older than I. My first thought was, “If this woman can keep running after eleven miles, I can too.” My second thought was, “I’ve got nothing to prove here. She can run if she wants, and good on her. I’m tired of running.” My third thought was, “Wait, is she wearing a beauty pageant sash?”
A white satin sash ran across the woman’s torso from left shoulder to right hip. On it the name “Carolyn Corlew” was emblazoned in royal blue letters. I started running again, not because I had the Eye of the Tiger, or even because I was ashamed that I was being outrun by a woman who clearly had a decade or two on me. No, I ran because if I didn’t catch up with the woman with the sash, I would never know her story.
I recently ran across this little story by Leo Tolstoy, and I thought it might be of some interest to the Rabbit Room.
THE THREE HERMITS
An Old Legend Current in the Volga District
“And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” — Matt. vi. 7, 8.
A Bishop was sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery; and on the same vessel were a number of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines at that place. The voyage was a smooth one. The wind favourable, and the weather fair. The pilgrims lay on deck, eating, or sat in groups talking to one another. The Bishop, too, came on deck, and as he was pacing up and down, he noticed a group of men standing near the prow and listening to a fisherman who was pointing to the sea and telling them something. The Bishop stopped, and looked in the direction in which the man was pointing. He could see nothing however, but the sea glistening in the sunshine. He drew nearer to listen, but when the man saw him, he took off his cap and was silent. The rest of the people also took off their caps, and bowed.
“Do not let me disturb you, friends,” said the Bishop. “I came to hear what this good man was saying.”
“The fisherman was telling us about the hermits,” replied one, a tradesman, rather bolder than the rest.
“What hermits?” asked the Bishop, going to the side of the vessel and seating himself on a box. “Tell me about them. I should like to hear. What were you pointing at?”
[Editor’s note: Behold the King of Glory is now available for pre-order in the Rabbit Room store.]
We’re just around the corner from the release of Russ Ramsey’s book, Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In forty short chapters (just right for devotional reading), Russ tells the story of the Gospels. What I have said before about Behold the Lamb I say again about Behold the King:
Russ Ramsey tells a story you’ve heard a hundred times and still haven’t heard enough. With remarkable attention to the facts of the matter, Russ brings to life the story that brings us to life. Here is glory made visible, tangible, audible. Which is to say, here is the Incarnation.
Russ and I recently had a chat about Behold the King, three-legged dogs, and the Millennium Falcon.
On some level, writing is a solitary process. You go into the cave, and you write. But writing doesn’t have to be altogether solitary. Indeed, I don’t think I could go into the cave at all if it weren’t for the life and light going on outside.
I’m reviving my long-moribund blog this year, and one of its central features will be a place where writers can come out of their caves and say to one another, “How’s it going down there?” or “Here’s what’s been working for me,” or “I think I’ve lost my way” or “Let me help you find it.”
The name of this writing community is “Further Up and Further In: A Writers’ Consortium” (thanks, Chris Yokel, for the name). The driving idea behind the consortium is simply to give people an opportunity to state their writerly intentions and to be taken seriously by people who have stated similar intentions. Throughout the year, we will offer each other encouragement, accountability, advice, and—hopefully—a growing conviction that the long journey of the writer is worth the effort. At least once a week I will post a consortium-related article at Jonathan-Rogers.com. That article may be about the writing process or about crafting better sentences; it may answer a question that has come up in the consortium that week; it may be a writing prompt. These articles will be part of my regular blog and will be available to anybody who visits the site. Some of the consortium discussion, however, will take place in a private Facebook group inhabited only by those who have joined the consortium.
To learn more about the Further Up and Further In consortium—and to join the group—click here.
It’s release day for Jill Phillips’s new record, Mortar & Stone (available here in the Rabbit Room store). Last week I chatted with Jill via Facebook about her record and other things. Mostly other things. She was just coming in from tutoring a student at her kids’ school, which draws students from very expensive neighborhoods, from housing projects, and from every sort of neighborhood in between. That was where our conversation started.
Your kids’ school is pretty interesting—this meeting point between families of privilege and families who don’t enjoy nearly the same advantages.
I agree. I want my kids to go to a school where people don’t have all the privileges they have. I want them to know that in all the important ways, those other kids aren’t that different. I think the things they see there hopefully build character and compassion. We talk about their school and friends in the context of the gospel all the time. I want them to see Jesus there and in their classmates. The thing that makes people the most anxious about sending their children there is really its greatest gift.
I think that has some relevance to the music you and Andy [Gullahorn] have been making—and the life y’all have been living—for a long time. So many of the songs on Mortar & Stone are about the blessings that come out of things you didn’t want at all.
That’s really interesting. I do think that’s true. I don’t think we can avoid pain. Our kids can’t avoid pain growing up. I can’t avoid pain in my daily life. Part of maturity is knowing who to turn to when hard things happen- who is Lord of it. I want to sing about all of those things.
Every grownup in the world will tell you that the things that made them a better person are the hard things, and yet most of us don’t want hard things for our kids. As much as I know I need Jesus, I don’t want my kids to have to need Jesus
I know, it’s so true. Even as I write that and know I believe it I fight it every day. I don’t want them to suffer, I don’t want to suffer.
Kids are the final frontier when it comes to the gospel.