“Country”: Excerpt from a prose poem by Shelby Stephenson


“From Country


Did you know there’s an Academy of Country and

Western Music?  Its admission’s policy is not Open Door.


Consider “Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through the Goalposts of Life,”

Paul Craft, writer, Bobby Bare, singer.  CMA was not a


foundling, though mysteries abound:  1964:  “country” stood for

America, “western,” mostly for the western states, the gimmick,


since Genesis, to create a kingdom on earth, Eve

looking at Adam, duo, singing “You Go On and Eat a


Bite, Too”:  the Red Barrel Club in L.A. was a treat:

awards started in the RBC-LA:  Hollywood Palladium


got in on the act, plus the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills,

all this, C & W fans, before the “Beverly Hillbillies Show”


on television.  “It’s Such a Pretty World Today,” song of the

year, 1967, sung by Wynn Stewart, written by Dale Noe:  Nin


and I, newlyweds, lived near a pawn shop in Pittsburgh,

Pennsylvania, preparing for academia, instead of


buying a Ph.D − post-hole digger − for $29.99, at Lowe’s

Home Improvement.  Why Roy Acuff’s The Crazy


Tennesseans placed musicians in Tennessee:  the state

jarred with  Smoky Mountain Boys eventually,


Roy Acuff savoring his businesses − Hickory Records,

Dunbar Cave Park Recreational Center, Acuff-Rose


Publications:  “Don’t Make Me Go to Bed and I’ll be Good,”

“Wabash Cannonball,” “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” “Streamline


Cannonball,” “All Alone Beneath That Lonely Mound of Clay,”

“The Precious Jewel,” “The “Great Speckled Bird,” and


“Branded Wherever I Go”:  Roy Acuff was different

from Rex Allen, the Arizona Cowboy, Allen’s biggest


hit, 1953, “Crying in the Chapel”:  “On Top of Old Smoky”

everybody loves:  Rosalie Allen recorded with Elton Britt


“Tennessee Yodel Polka,” a whitewash parge upon the

wall of the country music business:  what warbles a yodeler


brings to falsetto and voices − natural as I feel − mostly

good about the C & W industry, for the real thing


loses amusement among the beer and sequins.

I am at the G-Y-N with Nin:  laughter bounds the halls:


among all these women, their chatter, galaxies − mirror-mints,

cloud-soups the receptionist sneezes:  Nin says,


“Good-bye, Penny.”  Pete Seeger might never stop to say

Farewell, since he’s been going strong before musicians and


Want-to-B’s flooded Nashville, Tennessee,

like a “lightered-knot floater” at my homeplace on Paul’s Hill;


meanwhile, Pete Seeger (went by Pete Bower),

Woody Guthrie, and Burl Ives crossed America,


Josh White, Bess Lomax, too, singing their songs

for unions, chanting anti-war, their chore to rout out


Hitler and war, too, if they could; yet Folk Music could

really score a scare.  The Almanac Singers pre-dated and


fore-ran the post-war group, The Weavers.  Once upon a time

I knew the South Turkey Creek Minstrel, Bascom Lamar Lunsford.


My brother and I went to the North Carolina State Fair,

Raleigh:  since I am a year and seven days younger than


Marshall (I call him “Brown”) I am a tag-along, though,

truth be known, maybe taller than most trees except pines:


Holly (brother-in-law, married to sister Maytle Rose)

dropped us off.  Our instruments in our hands we saw


our first waterfall.  Brown signed up to play his banjo in the

contest on the stage of the Mountain Dance and Folk



Festival which Mr. Lunsford started in Asheville in 1928.

When my voice changed, falling into my socks, I


felt like my underwear might be the yellowy bloomers

dandelions spring; I started singing “country”:


Bluegrass singers may have “higher” voices, though

some, like Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury,


Dolly Parton, Laurie Lewis, Rhonda Vincent, and

Bobby Osborne, sing − any-thang!  Marshall could get by


his invasion into Mr. Lunsford’s “baby”:  he played the

five-string.  Me?  I was not asked to perform at the festival


at the fair in Raleigh:  that’s why we got lost and called

Holly to come get us − “We’ll be at the waterfall”:  Brown


won the banjo-contest:  I listened to George Pegram sing

and pick his banjo and I saw Mr. Lunsford’s hat


roll across the stage in a windy seizure the size of a defunct

Six-String Café in Cary, North Carolina:  I did not know


that Mr. Lunsford and his son and Carl Sandburg, John Jacob Niles,

Harry Golden, Alan Lomax, and Paul Green made the original


board whose purpose was to promote this Festival, growing from a

gathering to become the folk festivals of the 1960’s and 70’s;


mainly, though they are touted as Bluegrass Festivals:

major artists once minor become plentiful:  the public just


eats up the idea of FESTIVAL.   By the way, Paul Green grew

up near Lillington, within an hour of Paul’s Hill.


Truth, meanwhile, shapes a gyrating boy from Tupelo,

Mississippi.  What am to do?  Stay with old-time music and


risk stardom, studying Folklore at Indiana University,

Bloomington (I did get into grad school there):  maybe


those 50’s hooked me:  I got me a continental jacket and peg-

legged pants in the manner of the catty-times:  didn’t every


boy in the country want to MEOW?  Like Elvis or Jerry Lee

or Chuck or Little Richard or that Perkins boy, Carl?


Let’s not forget John R.  My shirt pink-flecked black

ingrained my sequins:  so when I made the


speech at the Pythian Home for Children in Clayton,

North Carolina, a child myself, listening to Faron Young −


Hank having died at twenty-nine, leaving me to hear

outside my bedroom window that whippoorwill of his song −


I sang “I Want to Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young, and Leave a

Beautiful Memory”:  it swamped my talk on “How To


Be A Successful Farmer,” my Future Farmer of America

pin obvious on my belt-buckle, scratching the back of my Martin,


my metaphor a ladder I must climb, growing the tobacco and

shortening the lives of every one of us smokers,


softly and tenderly, until our bodies comfort

oxygen to breathe no more:  in that audience


sat Mr. Huggins, owner of Huggins Hardware, Chapel Hill.

I write my ode from Paul’s Hill not too far from Mary Vance’s near


Four Oaks where my father and I used to turn out the

thirty-five dogs on the fox’s tail.  Mr. Huggins said,


“Shelby, come to Chapel Hill, Memorial Hall, and

sing a song; Mr. Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s the emcee”:


I said, Sure, taking my 00018 Martin.  I had seen Elvis Presley

at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium, performing the


first song I ever heard him sing, “I Got a Woman

Way Cross Town, She’s Good to Me”:  he brought up the


tail-end of the Ferlin Husky Show:  when Mr. Lunsford introduced

me, he left my knees knocking and my white bucks


buckling, my blue-bird blue jacket flecked in musical clefts,

my peg-legged trousers shimmying off my continental


jacket:  why, you could not get over me:  I sang with

all my heart and soul the Ivory Joe Hunter song,


“When I Lost My Baby, I Almost Lost My Mind”:

Mr. Lunsford never even mumbled a word, went


right on with his work:  I might have sung the song

he’s credited with writing, “Oh They Call It That Old


Mountain Dew,” but no:  I held my father’s stumphole

handy:  Primitive Baptist I am, hearing Sister Bernetta Quinn


tell me, as she backs her big white car into a dumpster in the

parking lot at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, “Shelby, if you


were not an Old Baptist, you would make a Good Catholic.”

I sang silently as the tree frogs croak in a voice


the Solemn Old Judge might endorse:  “I don’t care if it

rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus,


dancing on my dashboard upside-down.”  Asheville today’s

got big roads and condos and festivals:  string


dusters keep their fingers from rusting when their voices crack

“pop” in folk music’s changing Americana:


go figure:  Hank was already ensconced in the scene:

Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison.


Shelby Stephenson’s Family Matters:  Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge.