Laura Ellen Hopper, veteran of KFAT Gilroy in the 70s, and presiding genius at KPIG Santa Cruz died after a brief but catastrophic illness on Memorial Day 2007
Striking, to say the least, is the insistence among all the emails read on the air earlier this week, to say nothing of the phone calls from people like Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider, and Antsy McClain, to name only three I actually heard, that Laura changed people’s lives.
I hear this so clearly because she certainly changed mine. Not in an earthshaking religious conversion sort of way, more like a chiropractor is supposed to adjust your spine, except in Laura’s case, it was my mind.
Sometime late in the 90’s my friend Tom “Stormy” Weathered played Joe Ely in his car while we were traveling. I had settled into a comfortable musical middle age, listening again and again to my favorite Dylan, Dead, Springsteen, and, oh yes, Warren Zevon albums.
Joe Ely was a bolt out of an unimagined blue, in the same way Zevon was when someone played him for me 20 years before that. But there was, in my universe, no known way to connect with everybody else, either artist or listener, who was drawing energy off those basic texts. I had pretty much given up on radio, sometimes listening to that San Francisco station that plays the artists mentioned above, while I worked in the garden, but that was about it.
A few weeks after first hearing Joe Ely, I was on my own (on Sabbatical!) and on the road, celebrating my 50th year and the new millineum. Among my customary tapes I had added some Joe. (Live from Antoine’s, by the way.) Crossing back across the awful continent I picked up Wyoming Public Radio, which not only played Joe, but some music that sounded like it came from the same place. A week later back in the Bay Area, there was something on television about KPIG. Eventually, I figured out that I could listen to it on the net at work.
My first exchange with Laura was when she played Ely’s cover of “When Kindness Fails.” I emailed her breathlessly that that was my favorite Joe Ely song. Included was my signature identifying me as Development Director for a national child advocacy organization. Laura replied, “What? In your line of work?” Only after I replied that I fully understood the irony of the lyrics, which someone with an ear for that kind of thing who had lived in Wyoming might be able to, did she inform me that it wasn’t Joe’s song at all, but one of REK’s.
That began a correspondence that went on until the last week or so she was on the air. Me commenting from time to time on whatever she had played last, and her salty and always gratifying replies.
The immediate upshot of Laura's programming at KPIG was that I started listening to, and then finding the shows of, a whole host of singer-songwriters who opened my ears and mind. Most of them are Texans, with one notable exception . . . A Canadian rebel-poet subjected to an upbringing related to my own, in a part of the world near to mine, who created a way to get way past it.
That of course was Fred Eaglesmith, nee Elgersma, whose family is actually connected to family or friends of my family and friends, among them a former wife. My now wife and I have been on a couple of Charlie Hunter’s Fredtrains, and the extended family of Fredheads is a major life reward of a sort I had no idea was even available.
And that doesn’t begin to take into account the artists I never would have heard of without Laura’s direction. Joe Ely’s compadres Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Paul Thorn, Mary Gauthier, Todd Snider, of course, Tom Russell, and one of my very favorites who just threw a great small festival in Texas (my first time in Texas), Hayes Carll. Mainly, they are too many to name. And those artists and their festivals introduced me to a whole ‘nuther tier of singer/song-writers Laura never played, but to whom I listen now with enormous pleasure.
The poet Charles Olson, in one of the works people who read him remember best, wrote
But the known? This I have had to be given, a life, love, and from one man the world.
The one man was Robert Creeley, whom Olson barely knew at the time in vivid life, but with whom he was engaged (in writing) in an intense writers’ conversation.
That’s where Laura lines up for me. She gave me a world.
TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2007
Being stoned on marijuana alot when you are young is good
preparation for being old. You feel all the time, or at least
often, like you are on some precipice, ready to fall.
You know the feeling, it ain’t necessarily comforting, but you’ve been there before.
By the same if not entirely similar token, an active
if at times dysfunctional sex life prepares one for
communion with an affectionate if overly aggresive kitten who wants to cuddle
all the time. You can’t do it all the time
but when you are ready for it it can be very good.
For Jim Heynen . . . say it soft and it’s almost like praying . . .
Starts as a baseball game & then there is a sudden blizzard. Trapped at first mother-in-law’s house on
Union Street in Wyoming, Michigan utterly snowed in. Still
there is rice & kale & a pheasant the cat caught in the refrigerator &
She’s Not There.
II. The Zombies are, though . . .
The Zombies know all about one’s cover as a fundraiser.
They prove relentless. We play Let’s Make a Deal &
The deal is, I will put up with what they tell me to.
Hard to make a move except at one point I need to pee & the toilet
is full of vegetation that should be in the Earth Machine.
The people are lined up to eat the earth.
The women are in business suits. So are the men, but
they smell like compost & their foulard ties have earthworms where there
should be Kells or at least Stingaree. They have they tell me a mission.
IV. For Me
I descend to the pit. It is nothing Dante or Pynchon prepared me or anyone else for.
It is enormous & full of sand. Small figure in that landscape, I can’t ski on sand.
Above, big, tipping over, an enormous granite monolith.
The ski lift operator tells me it is a big old
rock, but I know a monolith when I see one.
V. The Monolith
Closely guarded . . . troopers with guns Black Copters . . . Ski Patrol . . .
The Monolith looms miles above, still, tipping overhead.
A mumbling gnome prophecies a brilliant future & shows me the ladder, not up the monolith, up the wall (of the pit) not quite miles high, but nearly.
VII. Back to the house.
They are still here, with the same offer, although not quite at such good pay. There is only one last question . . . “Do
you still believe in global warming?”
MONDAY, MAY 14, 2007
1. A few facts
You live in the lush arboreal forest where your species evolved. You live in the canopy inside a single bend in a great river nursing at the breast until five years old & with nothing but a lifetime of naps, casual sex, and lifelong friendship to which to look forward.
Unless your more warlike cousins the Chimps show up. Then you duck the nuts rocks & fruit they throw, but they seem to have the sense not to try to take your tree or eat you.
And then again, there are, of course, your more distant cousins, the humans, who have no sense whatsoever. They respect your territory no more than anyone else’s. And they will eat you. In fact do.
All is not entirely, always, well, even in your own world, even without the Chimps and the humans. If your influential mother dies, yr in for tough times, the other kids will pick on you, bite your hand, but then some other kids will come ‘round & check it out, lick it, show you sympathy.
In that regard, you are more like a human than a Chimp. (Humans being known for their profound sympathy for the suffering of other creatures.) (Chimps being obvious natural born killers, which distinguishes them from humans.)
The bonobos seem to have learned things from the gorillas, who, in earlier days shook food freely down at them from trees. After the humans killed the gorillas this stopped happening.
But the bonobos had learned to do it their way, and occasionally, when the humans weren’t killing each other & eating Chimps a little food still fell like manna.
When it hit the ground the humans took it. Fortunately, Bonobo culture had by then developed other food gathering mechanisms.
2. A few quotes
“Bonobos call loudly to each other when they bed down for the night and this makes them easy targets.”
(It should be pointed out that Bonobos don’t make those noises during sex,they have casual sex all day, they make those noises when they want a little rest.)
“In a starving country forest animals are destined for the pot.”
Humans have a thing called war, a highly ritualized form of Chimp quarrel.
“A new bonobo study will bring badly needed cash to the community.”
When they are shooting and eating you you better learn your country, where to run and hide, hide your mate young & community how to steer clear of Chimps & humans. Gorillas would probably be OK. If there were any.
“It would be hard to be a Bonobo in an urban environment.”
One-third got killed in their own country during the war, when they had it a little worse than the humans in Baghdad . . . (at this writing, stay tuned . . .)
The 19th, the Century For John Huizinga
Century of sage mountebanks. Wordsworth who wandered lonely as a cloud Whitman who lounged on the grass Sweet John Clare who sang of love’s frenzied stifled throes.
Melville whose Brit publisher forgot to include the epilogue to Moby Dick visiting trouble and scorn on our Herman and thus unwittingly setting up an eventual revival that would do our troubled author naught but good after he was long dead. And yet, his enduring spirit would be delighted to have left vague seafaring memories of white whales & abandoned hopes some treasure beyond measure.
Not to disregard the politicians. Bonaparte who at least got a good retreat named for him Lincoln who saved the Union (to his credit) and still is patron saint Of the Republicans (to what would be his Grave deformed genetic dismay)
Tom Jefferson whose vision Would not let him rest between bouts of intestinal disease And good relations with Sally Hemmings
Longfellow and the shores of Gitchegumee Bowie & his knives Davy Crockett & the wild frontier (of which he was king) Twain and his pilgrimages to the Old West GA Custer & schemes of American conquest Sitting Bull & his appropriate answer to the Yankee Peril
Go to the Little Big Horn O questing pilgrim & see with your own eyes The innocent ridge on that high prairie plain Where the last Sioux masses camped Somewhere only the imperial blind might not see them
Meanwhile, in Africa . . . Burton and his hashish habit and the memoirs his wife burned in their Victorian fireplace.
Verlaine & Rimbaud, who stopped writing and became an arms dealer in Africa.
And while we’re in Africa . . . Dr. Livingston & Mr. Stanley and shouldn’t white Europeans be proud of their legacy? Victoria Falls. What better name for a spectacle that was there then but won’t be much longer?
It was a time of great dreams. All come elegantly true in disastrous ways.
There were never any Neanderthal in Africa They were the first white people. Whatever of their genetic trace lingers in our blood, you have to think, will soon be just as extinct as they are.