Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stitch in Time

There was a man in my father's parish who owned a cabin cruiser.  It was a nice boat made by a company called Egg Harbor.  Every so often, the man would invite my father and his boys to spend a day on Narragansett Bay, the body of water that divides the state of Rhode Island into two unequal pieces.

I have a faint recollection of the actual vessel, but I can picture the man, whose name was George.  I remember the choppy waves from one particular day on the bay, and remember that George nearly had a seizure because I was whistling.  The high-pitched sound caused George to believe that something was wrong with engine, and he gave me a good talking to, which did my feelings no damage.  I came to understand that there were rules on a boat that didn't apply elsewhere.

George often brought his camera with him, documenting our outings with slides so they could be seen on a big screen.

Which brings me to my favorite memory of those days- my father's hat.  Hidden somewhere in the bottom of a box of unorganized photographs is a favorite picture of my father wearing a beat up grey fedora, standing in George's cabin cruiser.

The brim bent low in the front, its silk hem worn and frayed, grey as the late afternoon sky in October.  Its surface was pock-marked, having been gnawed on by a moth or two, and the black band around the crown was stained by the salty sweat of a hard working man.

My father was a frugal sort of man when it came to his possessions, yet generous when it came to what he could lavish upon others, usually in the form of love and kindness.  A pair of new dress shoes would serve him professionally, and when finally unpolishable, would become his casual shoes when he mowed the grass, worked around the house, or went to bat on the church softball field.

Dad was no Imelda Marcos.

I'm sure he bought the hat new before I was born.  Like me, Dad was bald, and a hat would have been a necessity more than a fashion statement.  With Dad, there was never a fashion statement other than 'let modesty prevail'.

I am thinking of these things because this morning I got out my sewing kit and mended a favorite shirt.

It's a denim cowboy shirt I bought in England in 1996.  I was there with my friend John Hartley, playing music as always.  Somewhere near Nottingham, I happened to walk into a shop where I found a classic western shirt by Wrangler, slightly different than what was available in the States.   I liked the oyster colored snaps, milk white circles disturbed by India ink.   Indigo is a color I find hard to resist, and cotton is pretty much all I wear, and unlike my father, I guess I might have a fashion statement to make, low-brow as it might be.

So I bought it.

One morning, 16 years after buying the western shirt, I looked at the holes in the elbows and decided it needed another patch job.  I've taken a needle and thread to it before, and it was time for another repair.  The iron-on patches I bought at Walgreen's were applied from the inside of each sleeve, covering the holes my elbows had created.  The ironing was the easy part.

The sewing was the enjoyable part.

Call me a seamster.

My mother taught me to sew so long ago that I can't remember when it was, just that she sat patiently with me and explained how to thread a needle and how to stitch a nice, neat seam.  She also taught me to iron, rightfully thinking that every young man ought to be able to take care of his own laundry.

I had patched up the pockets and flaps on this favorite of shirts once before, and the time had come for reinforcement.  I threaded the needle, knotted it as Mom had shown me so long ago, and repaired the damage that my enjoyment of the shirt had caused.

About 10 minutes later, I put the shirt on and went out for coffee.

This shirt has been all around the world with me.  I guess I can say the same thing about a few other shirts, and even my socks and boxers, but there is something about this shirt that makes it worth fixing, and worth writing about.

I like fixing things.

My maternal grandfather Beckman was a clever working-class Swede who was constantly inventing, repairing, and tinkering.  I think some of his handiness was passed down to me, as my father's people, while industrious, were not notedly handy.

Morfar, which means "mother's father" in Swedish, was brilliant when it came to putting things together.  While I never met the man, whenever I swing a hammer, sew up a hole on a screen door, or fix an old piece of furniture for my Southern Born Woman, I am reflecting his image.  I like employing my imagination until it yields a plan of repair, invention, or discovery.  I guess it's not much different than writing a song.

I don't know when Dad parted with his old chapeau; I know my mother wasn't overly fond of the hat as it gave him the appearance of "a bum", so perhaps she sweetly convinced him to let it go.  These days, a hat like his would wind up in a vintage clothing shop, but I'm sure it was relegated to the waste can that was submerged on the far side of the garage.

Whatever he felt about that hat, perhaps I feel about this shirt, and I'll wear it as long as I can repair it.  When it’s beyond repair, my daughter Kate will no doubt find it useful as a canvas to embroider on.

I wonder about the word "disposable".  How old is the word?  It seems like a modern concept, thus a new word.  "Disposable" can apply from razor blades to relationships.  We are a society that doesn't have time to make do with what we have, or to repair things that are retrievable.  That sad fact makes me appreciate Peabody’s Shoe Repair on 21st Avenue in Nashville, where I’ve brought my old Dingo suede cowboy boots for new soles at least 4 times in the last 25 years.   They are shot to hell, but I can’t give up on them.

Or the shirt.

And I'm even less willing to give up on my relationships~ my woman, my children, and good friends.

And myself.

In deference to those most essential relationships, the sewing kit needs to be within reach most of the time.

I'm full of holes that need to be acknowledged and measured, closed up and stitched shut.   And then there are the holes behind my back and under the collar that I don't know about unless someone tells me.  Hopefully, someone loves me enough to let me know.

Thread bare and worn down, I'm still here, and hopefully useful.

Redemption is just a stitch away.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Good News Hurts

It was an odd thing, hearing from someone I had worked with many years ago.  I wondered if some old mutual friend had passed away, or if I’d been seen flipping off the wife of the assistant minister at a nearby church when she nearly plowed into my stopped car.  Busted?  Seven on the Enneagram; I tend to think the worst at times. 

It turned out that Jeff was calling to invite me to play songs from Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us at a benefit for an amazing charity called International JusticeMission.

I had only to check out their website to know that their mission was unique and courageous, trying to set captives free from the world of human trafficking.  I knew that I needed to be at the benefit, not just to play my music, but to become more aware of a world that none of us wants to imagine.

I called Cindy Morgan and Amy Stroup to see if they would want to make cameo appearances and chime in on the songs they’d contributed to Mercyland.  They didn’t hesitate.

The day approached and I packed up my Blueridge guitar and headed over to the Renaissance Hotel for the big fete.  I was still basking in the glow of the concert of Mercyland songs we had performed the week before during the Americana Music Association’s convention.  Emmylou, Buddy, Shawn Mullins, The North Mississippi Allstars, sweet Matraca Berg, Kasey Chambers and a few other pals had sung their hearts out in this sold out concert.  People saw that as my night, my triumph, whatever, but I knew that it was an evening revolving around doing good in God’s name.

A week later, this evening wasn’t my evening; it wasn’t about my music, or even about my friends.   It was about doing something good in the name of God. 

And that made me happy, because there is so much more bad done in God's name than good.

My Southern Born Woman and I sat with Amy on our left and Cindy on our right.  Several Tennessee Titans sat at the table next to ours, basking in the glow of finally winning one by the skin of their teeth; first win of the season.  Wine and conversation flowed freely.  Jena Nardella, the young woman who gave a stirring benediction at this year's Democratic Convention was in attendance.  Forget the Titans, I've got to meet that woman, I thought.

Once the meal was over, Cindy and I ascended the stairs and took our microphones, and sang “Leaning On You”, our hillbilly hymn of brokenness- “I keep meanin’ to be leanin’ on You”.  Lord A-mighty, isn’t that how it is?

Then Amy got on mic and sang “Fell Like A Feather”- “Somebody make it stop, can’t look at the face of God”.

Our third and final number, Mercyland, the title track was tailor made for the evening, Merrill Farnsworth’s lyric articulating God’s best dream, “Ain’t no borders, ain’t no jails, ain’t no souls put up for sale”.

We used up our 15 minutes in 12, and that was that.  A speech about IJM’s work followed our music, and then the appeal for funds.  When you watch a film about an 11 year old girl sold into the sex trade, and see an interview with a slave owner, gleeful about his 25 years of success, the light of truth is alarming. 

Like my boss Emmy has sung on occasion, “Love hurts”. 

I found the evening gratifying and beautiful, as people of means wrote checks to a good cause.  It was good seeing old friends and associates from a world I don’t venture into much at all anymore.  A few old acquaintances shook my hand and hugged my neck.  I thanked Jeff for inviting me to be a part of the night; I would be leaving with a heart fuller than when I'd arrived.

And then everyone left.  We went home to our McMansions (or something with a roof at least), our computers, our comforts, our companions, our places of forgetting.

And now I’m trying to remember the face of a freed slave, his ragged teeth gleaming, his lips curved into a rapturous smile, his eyes reflecting light…

“Can’t look at the face of God, gonna give it all I’ve got, but the light stings as it tears through unbelief”.

Kyrie Eleison, Y'all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Big News- Bottoms Up!

Hold on to your hats, y'all, it's the resurrection mornin'!  It must be!  I haven't blogged in pretty long spell.

Good news abounds.  For one thing, Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us continues to slowly roll uphill- oh yes, it's uphill nowadays in the music biz.  But interest in the project is growing, and I'm at once humbled, proud, and penniless.

Thursday September 13, 2012, at 6pm, a few of my illustrious compadres and I will attempt to perform "Mercyland" at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville.  You know the place- a conventional looking shell, housing what seems to be the entire set of Cleopatra's palace from back when Liz Taylor was riding high.   Anyway, the Wood Brothers, Kacey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, the McCrary Sisters, and one or two more (if I play my cards right) will all be joining the original Mercyland cast- Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Shawn Mullins, The North Mississippi Allstars, Amy Stroup, and me and whoever else surfaces in the next 8 days, for an early evening show.  I'm excited, y'all!

More news...

I'm about to launch a new Kickstarter campaign for a 2012 solo PM record, which is a little scary.  I don't anticipate anything major to come from the effort, but it's just time, like it was time to do a painting a few weeks ago, and it was time to load the dishwasher this evening. Some things just have to get done.  The songs have been written with Merrill Farnsworth, Cindy Morgan, Gordon Kennedy, and perhaps one I co-wrote with the wonderful Amy Grant.  You just never know.  But it's rootsy and positive and confessional, all at once.

Still with me?  Well, if you are, chances are you've been with me on this blog journey for the last few years.  I've gone from frequent blogger to infrequent... Something happened that I didn't feel like sharing in this forum, but I will now.

My friend Ian Cron and I were having coffee one day.  I was going about my usual business inspiring him, knowing he'd completely misquote me but enjoying him just the same, when he offered me the phone number of a literary agent.  I found some excuse to get going, and left my Venti Iced Coffee No Sweetner No Room sitting there at the Five Points Starby's, such was my excitement.  (And by the way, I am NOT the former Christian musician songwriter he keeps talking about- I think he's referring to Stephen Colbert).

Anyway, I got to my car, and dialed the number.  A voice answered, "This is Kathy".  Now was my chance.  I went for it:

"Hey Kathy, this is Phil Madeira.  Ian Cron gave me your number, thinking you might want to read my writings."


Kathy answered tentatively, "Well, I'm not looking for new clients.  In fact, I'm thinning out my client list at the moment and am too busy to take on anyone new".

I knew this tone.  I knew this voice.  Hell, I'd been on the other end of the call I was making, usually with someone wanting to pitch me a song her mother had written.  I knew the sound of someone wishing they hadn't picked up the phone.

Kathy went on.  "I'm not interested in picking up any new clients".

"Yes", I said smiling, "I can hear that in your tone".

She sighed.

"Ok.  What's your book about?"

Well, now I knew she was just being nice.  I could hear the resignation in her voice.   Why waste each other's time? I thought.  I defaulted to my WTF tone and said, "Well, Kathy, it's about trying to hang onto Jesus while simultaneously losing all the shit of religion".

There, I'd let her off the hook.

"I'd really like to read that", she replied.

A year later, I'm on the verge of signing a book deal.  I can't believe it, and for the moment, this is all I'm going to say about it. But you, dear readers, have been encouragers along the way of me discovering that I can do this.  I'll probably pull down most of these blog entries at some point; I've edited them a bit, and hopefully made them equally raw and redemptive.  I swear there's no altar call in the book, and my new publisher assures me that my discretionary use of 4 letter words will stay in tact.

So, kudos and heaps of gratitude to Ian Cron for inspiring something of grand or possibly grandiose proportions.  Drinks are on me, Ian.  (Wait, how much is a grande latte?)

I'll spring the title on you in a few days, and then I suppose this blog will turn into less of an experiment and into more of a forum about what I'm doing in the arts and where the book is taking me.

I'm overwhelmed, y'all.  Thanks.

All good things...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hey Friends, please check out this kickstarter campaign!

Friends, when I started blogging here, I wrote often of my project of Spiritual songs, which finally was completed after two years, and will release on April 24th of this year (2012).  Kickstarter provides a way for people to support the arts, and (in this case) receive the music before it's released.  I hope you'll pass along the following info to all your friends and hope that you will support Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us.

Please "Like" the project on facebook, as well: Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us