Charles K. Wolfe

Jim Ridley over at Pith in the Wind is reporting that Charles Wolfe died last night.

I am distraught.

Charles was one of my favorite people in the world. Though, I suppose, that’s true for just about everyone who knew him. He was one of those professorly types who always had an office full of chaos–records, books, papers piled everywhere–but he could put his hands on whatever he needed to show you the second he thought to show it to you.

He also was constantly full of ideas. Whenever he saw me, he’d pull me aside and say, “Now, I’ve been thinking and I wonder what you think about doing a book about…?” or he’d say “You need to get in touch with this person” and scribble down a name.

For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve heard people whisper “You know, his health’s not good,” but it felt like we could all will him to live forever, if we just never spoke too loudly about what we all knew was the truth.

And we needed him to live forever because so many of us had come to rely on him. Because Charles knew everything there is to know about music. You could play some obscure song cut by some hillbilly band in 1926, and he could, just by listening, tell you who the musicians were and a little bit about them. The same with country blues artists. With any music worth listening to.

And he was generous with his time, too. He’d look over manuscripts for folks or listen to their home made tapes or just stand around Uncle Dave Macon Days and chat.

He loved music and he loved people.

Probably, you don’t know him, though if you’ve watched enough documentaries about roots music, you’ve seen his walrus-like visage once or twice. So, for you, the loss will hurt less. You don’t know how he sat down with everyone he thought knew anything and listened as they told their stories and then carefully wrote them down and told them back to us.

So, for you, when someone says, “I wonder who that is, playing piano on that song” and no one knows, you’ll be a little worse off for it, because that knowledge is gone. But the sharp pain of knowing that, until yesterday, there was someone who could answer that question won’t hit you.

We are all worse off, though. Each and every one of us who loves American music.

I don’t know how to explain it. It’s as if our greatest library has burnt down and all those rare books lost. He was one of our greatest resources on our music and the people who made it.

And he was a kind and generous man.

Every good thing that has happened to me professionally in Nashville happened because of him. I’m indebted to him, forever now, and I miss him already.

Lunch with the Butcher

The Butcher and I went to lunch to the Mediterranean place on 21st, which we both agree has declined in quality since the family of the girl with the beautiful brown eyes sold it. I don’t think we’ll be going back there any time soon.

But having lunch with the Butcher reminds me how bad I feel for any of you lacking a brother like the Butcher. We were laughing so hard through most of lunch that I was very sad to not be spending the rest of the day with him.

Here’s the kind of thing you can say to your brother, “You appear to be growing ear hair.” To which he replies, “Yep.” And then you can say, “I think I’m also turning into some kind of sasquatch.” to which he replies, “Well, think of how nice it will be when we can just go out and live in the woods and shit where we want.”

Anyway, it wasn’t all shits and giggles for the Butcher and me.

He was also outlining his political platform.

It’s made of two elements right now: prison reform and littering.

His vision for prison reform is that we stop allowing prisoners to work out and instead feed them high fat diets so that they come out of prison weak and out of shape instead of larger and more menacing than when they went in. He would put the prisoners to work sorting recyclable materials out of our garbage and recommend extensive therapy for them.

He would also put reality television cameras everywhere so that all prisoners could be publicly humiliated with having to be on crappy TV.

His littering reform is much simpler. He will adopt a highway (or steal an ‘adopt a highway’ sign and put his name on it) and put orange snow fencing along that stretch of road. People will then be encouraged to litter on the orange snow fencing, which can then be bundled up and sent to the prisons, where the fat, lazy reality-show star prisoners can sort it.

His campaign slogan is, at the moment, “America, just let me once make more money than my sister.”

I know, y’all are jealous that you did not have a cool lunch like mine with the Butcher. However, for a “modest” campaign contribution, he’s willing to have lunch with you any time.

[Edited to say that the Butcher just called and said that now that he thinks about it, he will have webcams, so that family members can follow the antics of their relatives on the internet.]

It’s Like Porn for Me

I love home improvement shows. It started when I was small, watching “This Old House” with my dad, and has now progressed to me sneaking every chance I get to watch HGTV.

Show me big old mansions carefully refurbished by impossibly wealthy middle-aged gay men. Or a modest dining room painted by a single mother in some delicate faux finish. Can I see what that living room would look like in green? Hmm. Okay. What about blue? Oh, yes, that’s very nice.

Explain to me in concerned, but knowledgeable, tones the difficulty of wrapping brass gutters around a corner like that. Show me your workmen working away. Give me a close up on that roof. Can I see you cut through shingles to install a skylight?

How will you keep the greenhouse from leaking? What kinds of counters will you put in the kitchen? Can a bathroom sink really be shaped like a large lily and still be practical?

I cannot stop watching. And dreaming about what I would do with infinite funds, what kind of house I would buy and all the ways I would make it homey. I turn those shows on and it’s like my brain shuts off and something primal engages with what appears on the screen.

I have a place to live. And it’s fine. But I can’t give the stairwell a coat of very light rose. I can’t tear everything in the bathroom out and start over. I can’t put a fence around the backyard so that Mrs. Wigglebottom and I can go out and play without fear of either one of us being decapitated by her leash.

And so I watch these shows with a kind of furtive fascination, both wanting so much to have an opportunity to actually need shows like this, and afraid it’s never going to happen.

Which also means that whenever I check over at the Wayward Boy Scout’s to see how his floor is coming, I’m really not much better than the perverts who come to Tiny Cat Pants looking for “big tit fucking.”