“Tension and temptation, diving into darkness
Try to shed your skin, still what you are inside
Lord, I’m a-learning
There’s something greater
Than walking on this bridge of fear..”
Lyric excerpt from “Tension and Temptation” by Michael Ingmire
Without any shadow of a doubt, 2018 has been a brutal year for this writer. My life has been like an open palm with the wrath of 2018 striking it repeatedly. Since February 20th, I have lost my exceptional Mother Jean, my Aunt Pat, three friends, a musical colleague and we had to put two of our beloved cats down. Yet, my faith and talent remain steadfast. My sense of humor and humanity remain intact. How? Well, it took a lifetime to get here.
Let me explain………
At the age of eight, when most boys were chasing frogs and trying to figure out girls, I was dealing with the murder of my father. There is no blueprint to deal with the murder of a parent at that young of an age or, for that matter, at any age. The current liberal Elementary school system makes a big deal of teaching sex education. I counter that with the suggestion that the same school system should teach life education.
There should be lessons in loss taught to young children as opposed to lessons in lust. Lust fades, but loss remains a constant. My early experience taught me that life can be like a defenseless piece of paper, blown down the street. Children should be taught that loss is part of the transition of this thing called life.
Of course, in the context of my hard boiled Christianity, that may require the aforementioned school system to teach humanity. Children should be taught that the flesh and bone of this existence for our family, friends and pets has an expiration date. Sometimes death comes before we are ready for it. Our spirit remains as part of the greater firmament.
There is an old saying that you start growing up when you lose your first parent and the process is completed when you lose the second one. If that is the case than the process started when I was eight.
We lost my Mother Jean on March 12, 2018. I wrote an extensive tribute to my Mother for Politichicks in May of this year. It was titled, Jean Ingmire: A Sterling Mother. That article detailed the profound lessons and the love my mother demonstrated to me. However, as extensive as that article was, the one aspect of my Mother that I did not go into detail about was her sense of humor. It was broad ranging and without cruelty. My Mother and her sisters were side splitting funny. Very quick with their comic observations of life. Always delivered with a broadly funny repartee and delivery. They commented with love on the people that they knew and their observations on the human condition. Once, in the face of tragedy at my Father’s funeral, I made my mother laugh. You see my Father was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War and received a full Military funeral.
After the heart wrenching service at the Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town where I grew up, Norfolk, Virginia, we started to head to the Hampton Virginia Veterans Cemetery. We were escorted by a Naval Officer to a black limousine, circa 1965. Getting into the back seat, I made a discovery; there were all sorts of switches on the door rest on the door to my left.
Putting on my best eight year old poker face, I started to quietly manipulate the switches. The window, in the partition that separated the front and the back, started to slowly go up and down. My Aunt Shirley and my Mother, along with the driver, were in the car with me. (I don’t remember if my brothers got in later or rode in another vehicle.) The movement of the window started to frighten my Mother and Aunt. Speaking of my Father they nervously said, “I wonder if George is trying to tell us something!” They finally realized that I was the one moving the window.
My Mother and Aunt roared with laughter in the midst of this devastatingly sad day. It is the humor, love and unconditional love of my Mother that I embrace and remember everyday.
My mother’s sister Pat was also at my father’s funeral with my Aunt Shirley. Aunt Pat was the next oldest, after my Mother, in their family. She was also incredibly funny, witty and very sensitive to the pain that I was experiencing after my father’s death.
Aunt Pat and my Uncle Don, became like auxiliary parents to me. For the next few years, as vacations allowed, I spent a lot of time with Don and Pat at their house in Mertztown, Pennsylvania. It was a comfortable two story house with a concrete deck over the garage. I hung out with my cousins, Donnie and Susan. Donnie would explain song lyrics to me and most likely is who planted the seeds that lead me to eventually becoming a songwriter. Susan tolerated my moods and my penchant for late night horror movie watching. I know we watched dozens of scary films together in their basement den.
Pat and Don also had a standard poodle, Sam, who lived on a hill above their house. In fact, their back yard was huge with a lot of small, rolling hills. I thought Sam was a sheepdog as he was not coiffed like the standard poodle. He reminded me of the sheepdog in the Looney Tune cartoons. Sam and I would sit on top of his dog house for hours with his warm paw drape over my shoulder comforting me. I loved that dog.
My Aunt Pat died on June 3, 2018. Apparently, she was seeing my Aunt Joan and my Father George as she was getting ready to pass over. Thanks for all the love and support, Pat.
The Summer of 1966, a few months after my father’s death, my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Herbie took my Mother and me to Canada with them. Their treat. I was just nine years old. We stopped at every cavern, amusement park, candy store, Corning Glass factory and any other place that would stimulate my inquisitive mind. We saw the Thousand Islands and spent days in Toronto. Niagara Falls fascinated me and the Toronto Aquarium thrilled me. Shirley and Herbie remained in my life until their deaths in the last decade. Hugely funny and loving people. When they retired, with no children, they hit the casinos. My Aunt Shirley was a highly astute and lucky gambler. I think of them constantly, along with Pat.
I think the example of my mother’s family was why I sought to be part of a musical community. Nothing tighter and closer, other than family, than a group of musicians trying to create beauty out of a set of seemingly unrelated notes. From my teenage years through today, my passion for the Blues has lead to a series of long standing friendships with a lot of classic and classy Bluesmen.
My favorite Bluesman was, and still is, Howlin’ Wolf. The more I learn about Wolf, the more I appreciate him. Howlin’ Wolf’s music is where the soul of a man never dies. He had a difficult childhood, but ultimately, had a kinder heart than you could imagine. He spoke to me by phone in November 1975. I was only 18. He talked to me for over an hour. That surprised me as I just called him out of the blue. Yet, we had a mutual friend and that made me “alright.” If you love Blues and don’t know Howlin’ Wolf’s music, you may wish to consider changing that.
Wolf offered me an opportunity to come visit him. He suggested the Spring of 1976 as the Chicago winters were horrible. Tragically, Howlin’ Wolf left us on January 10, 1976.
Wolf’s bandleader was Saxophonist/Singer Eddie Shaw. After the passing of Wolf, his band went on the road as Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang. I saw them play several times. His guitarist for the first few years was the legendary, Hubert Sumlin. Hubert was incredibly generous with his knowledge about the guitar, which was boundless. He gave me several informal lessons between sets and was infinitely patient and kind to me. Like my Mother, Hubert Sumlin was one of the rare angels I have met on this earth.
Eddie Shaw, like his boss The Wolf, was seemingly gruff. But Eddie had a heart of gold and he allowed me to sit in with them. In recent years, Eddie did a project called Eddie Shaw and the 757 All Stars, that was made up of Eddie and friends of mine from the Tidewater area, such as Jackie Scott, Bruce Gray, and the equally legendary, Henry Johnson, among other great Tidewater Blues Stars. I wish I had been in Norfolk at that time, I could have added something to the party. Eddie Shaw left us on January 29, 2018 and he is reunited in heaven with the Wolf and Hubert.
Deborah Coleman was a great Blues guitarist, singer and songwriter from my neck of the woods. After years of playing with local Blues and Rock bands, she got a record contract in 1997 with Blind Pig Records. Deborah and I had a friendly professional competition with each other. She always called me Ingmire. Ultimately, I was glad to see Deborah get a record contract. I felt that was a reinforcement for all of us to work harder and Deborah worked hard.
But the road for a musician can be a brutal and cruel place. Deborah Coleman left us on April 12, 2018, due to complications from pneumonia. The love and kindness that Deborah demonstrated to her friends cannot be overestimated. She is greatly missed.
Reverend Goat Carson (AKA David Carson), was a shaman, a Poet, a Cherokee Indian Christian Minister, Former Presidential Candidate, Singer, Songwriter and Spiritual Advisor to many, including this writer. Goat was a principled man who choose to live simply. He collaborated with New Orleans legend Dr. John on the great album, “The City That Care Forgot.” Goat also appeared as himself on the HBO series, “Treme.” I met Goat in New Orleans in 1998 through my Nephew, George Ingmire. George was producing a record for Goat in George’s French Quarter apartment.
Those sessions lead to the 1999 release, “Simmerin,’ which included the classic track, “Redskins.” “Redskins,” detailed the brutalization and skinning of indigenous American people and why Indians resent that term. I have played some of my most evocative slide and regular guitar work on Goat’s albums. On “Simmerin,’ I also played on the track, among others, titled “Mystery of Woman,” which recalled Jimi Hendrix’s ballads.
Goat was one of the most in the moment people I have ever met in my life. His company was always fun and enlightening. Definitely comfortable in his own skin. He said his nickname of Goat meant “Got to Try.” He would accompany his poems and songs on a buffalo jaw harp that he nicknamed, “Baby Belle.”
Goat and my nephew turned me on to some of the best fried chicken in the world at Snake and Jake’s in New Orleans.
Goat taught me how to be comfortable with my own Indian blood and with my own skin. To wear my Indian heritage with pride and silence. After all, I never lived as an Indian. I was privileged to have also played guitar on his second album titled, “Lovers, Love Songs, Hymns and Blues, released in 2000. That album also featured the stunning saxophone work of Charles Neville (Another recently departed soul from this station of life). Playing with Reverend Goat made me into a deeper and even more soulful guitar player. He walked with the spirit in the most natural way and I will miss him for the rest of my life. Goat’s soul left his body on June 24, 2018. The spirit world gets luckier and luckier.
The persons I write about here are not to be mourned, they are meant to be celebrated with love, wisdom and humor. The lasting lessons that they taught me continue after their voices fade and as those lessons change with my own journey. The road of loss I have experienced throughout my life taught me early that this life is more than flesh and bone. That realization is how I maintained my humanity through many decades of devastating loss.
Perhaps, because of those losses, the music that I listen to, and that I play, is imbued with an intensity, an attention and a passion. It is the soundtrack of my existence. I have no use for the false or the soulless. Fittingly, to the subject at hand, Bluesman Buddy Guy duetted with Irish Soul Man, Van Morrison on a song that I liked immensely called “Flesh and Bone.” Buddy dedicated it to B.B King on his 2015 album, “Born to Play the Guitar.” The lessons of the loved ones in my life have taught me to especially appreciate the chorus.
“This life is more than flesh and bone
Find out now before you’re gone
When you’re gone your spirit lives on
This life is more than flesh and bone…”
I am in no hurry, but I am not afraid of a life without flesh and bone.