What Went Wrong With Adam Lanza

Posted in America, Autobiographical, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by Paulette Powell

December the 14, 2012, the American horror movie became real life, when a 20 year old high functioning Asperger man, Adam Lanza, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown CT and became the “Boogieman”. Murdering 20 innocent children, 6 educators and then turning the gun on himself. Police discovered early in the morning, he had shot, his “gun enthusiast” mother several times in the face, while she laid sleeping.

I didn’t know Adam or Nancy, but in a strange way, felt a connection to the horrific event,  through family friends, who knew well one of the child victims and I’m a Mother, who raised a special needs child.

Adam’s Mom, it’s being disclosed, was not just a gun collector but a divorcee, who didn’t work.  She lived in a 1.4 million dollar home, and received nearly 300k alimony and child support a year. Nancy was a “prepper”  or a survivalist, who believed the end of civilization, perhaps Armageddon, was at hand.

It’s becoming apparent, Nancy, was raising her medicated (reported on Zanapt) Asperger son alone, with very little family or community (other then drinking buddies at her local pub) to assist and support this exhausting job.

I believe her income and ethnic bracket allowed her and Adam to slip into a dangerous fantasy world and fall between the cracks. No social worker or mental health professional checked in on them, even after she had an apparent falling out with educators and decided she would home school Adam for a few years….Or during/after her divorce.

Divorce is more often then not, traumatic, even for kids who aren’t disabled! Splintering families, dividing children in two, going from camp to camp, creating loyalty issues. Many kids become addicted to escapism in one form or another, that follows them into adulthood.

Reports are emerging, Nancy was looking into admitting her son to a facility or some type of college for special needs children. Did Adam feel threatened, like his world was crashing to an end or the Apocalypse was a week away? Was Nancy bi polar, and exhibiting extreme punish and reward behavior or did she fear a social stigma and shame, to call out for help?  Little is known about the dynamics of their Mother/Son relationship. And why would anyone, especially a mother, in their right mind, believe exposing an Asperger child to automatic assault guns, is a way to teach the child or young adult responsibility?

(And at such a dangerous age, it’s a proven fact, boys, young men between the ages of adolescence and young adulthood, are prime pickings for the military or militia and the majority of perpetrators in acts of terrorism, internationally or domestic.)

Ryan, Adam’s older brother and Father, Peter Lanza were reported not to have seen Adam in two years. Who were they estranged from, Adam or Nancy or both? Even so, they are the only ones who can shine additional light on the complicated mother/son relationship and mind of Adam Lanza.

I for one, know the importance of community when there is a special need child in your family. I have walked in Nancy Lanza’s shoes. It was the learning experience of my life, raising Carla!

Let me define Asperger; Asperger syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders. The term “autism spectrum” refers to a range of developmental disabilities that includes autism as well as other disorders with similar characteristics.

When I first became Carla’s caregiver, I discovered she was awkward with social skills, labeled with learning disabilities by educators and doctors. I didn’t know how severe her problems were until I got up close and personal. This was before computers and internet research engines. I hit the library and spoke to every educator and doctor, to discovery at the time, 1992,  not much was out there as far as Asperger and the wide spectrum it covers.

It was a rude awaking to discover, education and childcare professionals, could be cold hearted. I believed, like many, educators and doctors have a calling, and put the best interest of kids first. NOPE! I had to dig deep for answers, for folks who did care and shelter Carla from unnecessary emotional pain.

One encounter, is when I was “mommy volunteer yard monitor”. I came across a group of children who cornered Carla and for amusement, called her names and even physically abused her. I found it strange, Carla didn’t tell on them and if I hadn’t observed this with my own eyes, it may have continued. It was especially shocking because one of the girls, Jenny, I had first met at a BBQ at Carla’s home. Where the little girls played harmoniously, but at school, that was not case.  Jenny taunted Carla often, disturbing educators turned a blind eye.  I immediately intervened and called Jenny’s mother and other children’s parents who’d joined in, the bullying stopped.

I learned being a care giver for a special needs child, will always be hands on project and a full time job. It takes a lot of love and patience, I could not have done it or be successful, if I wasn’t able to gather community of friends, family and peers around us. WE got Carla through, elementary, middle school, high school and junior college. By the time she reached high school, she was a B student and graduated from one of the most coveted public high schools in the City, High School for Environmental Studies, where she was awarded a scholarship during the graduation ceremony, one of the proudest days in my life.

I hope by listing some our challenges and how to counteract them, can shine light for other parents/caregivers struggling in this increasingly cold world to raise a special needs child.  And turn a disability into a reinvent-ability.

1. Labels & Stigma; Carla was an awkward child, doing anti social things that could be immediately labeled “troubled kid”. Most people, even in liberal Manhattan found it easier to label her “bad” and distant themselves from her. I immediately sounded the alarm, but not in a hostile tone, asking other parents and friends for understanding, help. Letting them know, her awkwardness was not symptoms of a “troubled child“, but her special condition.  She was not EVIL, but needed supportive friends, “helpers“ as the wonderful late Mr. Rogers, so beautifully expressed.

2. Anti Social Behavior; Wandering physically and mentally, Carla would become anti social on her own, if I would allow it. She would disappear in her own world, I believe a place of comfort, from the years of bullying and neglect she endured.  She  did things out of the blue, making no sense and would often be considered by her peers as “gross”. I wouldn’t let her retreat into a fantasy world. I pulled her out! I made her engage with the family, made sure she had playmates and hobbies. When she would do something “gross”, I would explain to her why it made people uncomfortable. I taught her boundaries, mental and physical. I would tell her if she wasn’t sure about how to act or feel, she could ask and she could observe how other children behaved.

4. Detachment;  I realized, some of Carla’s issues came from being alone. I knew it was important for her to interact with the family and with friends as much as possible. This was a break through for her! Finally this little girl was becoming more social, even capable of making her own friends.

4. Physically Numb; Carla had a super human pain threshold. Even when she fell hard, she seldom cried. I once found her poking herself with an unfolded paper clip. This also translated into how she would touch or hug someone. She often gave strangling bear hugs. I constantly explained to her, that others were not as strong as her. And reminded her to play soft. I believe giving her a kitten was an important part in this process, and also taught her empathy, attachment and RESPONSIBILITY. Hunter, our great Tabby cat, was all hers to love and she did very much (he passed away at 14). She even invented a cat language, she would meow in different tones, like a kitty Morse Code! I began to call her Miss Doolittle, she loved it and her love and empathy for animals (and for people) grew, she was able to bond and began to have best friends.

5. Learning Disabilities; When I first met Carla, she was an 8 year old who couldn’t do math, tell time, count money or even tie her shoe laces. I didn’t resolve, like others in the past, that she was hopeless to learn math. I found the right tutor, an artist, who once was a NYC public school teacher and her Mom a special education teacher. Dana, immediately consulted her Mom, identified Carla read above her grade level, a huge vocabulary and believed this could translate in her ability to learn math! Dana invented creative ways to teach Charlotte, it worked!

I also discovered Carla had a PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY!!!! She may have hated American history but if she would read me her test material out loud before her exam, SHE WOULD ACE THE TEST! I learned nature is a beautiful thing, it can compensates weakness with incredible gifts.

To recap and to sum it up; I’m not a scientist, I’m not an educator or hold any professional degrees to work with Asperger or special needs children, but I am an open minded mother, care giver who learned through my experience that the first thing that had to be done was to establish community, surrounding her with love and support. And above all, never give up.

Carla is now an adult woman, is she normal? What is normal anyway? She graduated college, is capable of living alone, hold a job, has friends and was able to find her place in life. She has quality of life. I also believe her brain on several fronts caught up to others. Many people who meet her today, don’t have a clue she had or has a disabilities. It was almost like she was helped to fake it until she felt it.

Other important notes, is never parent from a place of guilt, never allow a child to disappear down a rabbit hole. If a parent can’t handle a Asperger, special needs child, it is best this be evaluated and the child is placed in an enviroment that engages them.

Hillary Clinton said it best by borrowing a beautiful West African proverb, “It takes a Village to raise a child!” It sure does!

American Wasteland

Posted in 911, Alabama, America, Autobiographical, Country Music, Johnny Cash, June Carter, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by Paulette Powell

For many years on my annual pilgrimage, I drive the spine of the Appalachians to their foothills in Alabama. I’m eagerly welcomed by my family, the city girl back in her American small town. I recall Charlie dubbing an early trip “The Last Picture Show”, in the role of Cybill Shepherd, I camped up for his camera.

This was 1990s, a picturesque American Dream. Lively urban centers, from Pittsburg to Nashville snuggled by suburbs and exurbia, then miles of highway connecting rural towns from North to South. Blue Ridge Mountain Mama makes you believe in God, and the American Dream.

Our visit would begin homesteading at my sprawling family farm. City kids off the leash, like wild critters excited to run free. Granny would fill them with junk when I wasn’t looking. I did my ritual BBQ and entertained my old friends with tarot and Mt. Eagle blackberry wine. Fireworks, not legal in NYC but in Alabama you could hear BOOM, all summer long. Roman candles and sparklers would delight. And little light pollution allowed us to view the Big Dipper, sometimes watch spectacular meteor showers.

The days ahead we’d make our rounds to visit kinfolk. At Powell’s Chapel , Paw Paw Powell was always thrilled to see his “Blue Eyed Girl”, my daughter Cortney and welcome Charlie’s children as his own. Later we would head down to Berry, bout 30 minutes outside of Tuscaloosa to visit my favorite Uncle and his clan. His farm was off a mile from the rural road, at night the Katydids became an orchestra.

When it was time to leave we reluctantly packed to head back to the Big Apple, and were always asked, “Why don’t y’all just settle down here?”, Jimmy Powell or Uncle James would croon. There were beautiful homes to acquire with a veranda and widow’s walk. For a moment Charlie and I would fantasize about relocating and perhaps snag for our own, Fox Run Plantation.

Over a decade ago those good old days are like fleeting dreamscape when life was easy and the cotton was high. President Clinton was in office, America was prosperous, 911 catastrophic was only a fathom in a Man in Black movie and we had yet to embark on a decade war in two hostile foreign countries.

On a recent trip driving off the beaten path, things were not the post card perfect memory I carry in my head. But sad people in old automobiles and towns in much need of repair greeted us from state to state.

Outside Roanoke, Va, we stopped to fill up, to be asked for help from a family with two small kids. I gave them a few bucks for gas. They thanked us and apologized, their desperate eyes grateful. It seemed every thing they owned was piled in an old beat up Ford, even the kid’s bicycles. I wondered if they were on their way to stay with family, I hoped they had family.

Back on the road I had hours to burn before we stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs and decide if the Blue Eyed Woman (my grown daughter) and I, would stay in a motel before embarking on the last leg of our journey. Amid baby boomer travelers and typical tourists, something disturbed us. There were younger people and older who looked lost, homeless, nowhere to go.

Cortney and I speculated their stories, one man looked serial killer creepy with wildness in his eyes, gaunt from a lack of sleep. We made bad jokes but they soon turned to empathy. Is this what our country is turning into, “The Great Recession, an American Wasteland“ ; resembling James Agee and Walker Evan’s era of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”.

We made it to Alabama exhausted as always, to hear stories of who lost their home, job, got cancer, “went for treatment” and what company was sold to multi-nationals. Cortney and I whispered in agreement, we no longer enjoyed our visits, too damn depressing, especially since Paw Paw’s been gone.

On a Sunday we attended church with my Great Aunt Greet, afterwards a church covered-dish supper. We talked of family, work and politics. Cousin Edward told me things have changed, with sons who serve, he speaks of fear that future generations will not know the prosperity of his generation. Then the conversation becomes darker, when I discover that the little boy I took a shine too, belonged to a Father in prison and a recovering addict Mother who doesn’t attend church, but relies on Edward and the community to raise her children.

In Morgan County I hear more horrific tales, the fate of a friend’s close family member. Avoided death in Iraq to fight his own demons. He blew himself up making crystal meth (white man’s crack) in a two car garage, leaving a wife and two babies behind. “The war didn’t get ’em, the drugs did” my friend shook his head and swallowed the last of his bud.

All across the country, from the Southland, Heartland, Western Seaboard, The Great Plains, New York State and the Great White Way, the stories seem to be the same, just with different names. Few job opportunities, industries move abroad and over 14 million Americans are unemployed.

Corporations cut costs while CEO and shareholders have bonus record years, less reliant on our American market they are whores to emerging foreign economies. Even telemarketing is relocating to bilingual countries. Where children learn English as a fluent 2nd language while our schools close for lack of funds and taxes.

Another historical work stands out in my mind, “How The Other Half Lives” written and photographed by the great “Muckraker” Jacob Riis. Depicting the two Americas, the very privileged and very poor, no middle class. His works inspired reforms and regulations introduced by that famous Republican, Theodore Roosevelt. Along with other great men, carved a piece of pie for working class and made our country what it became. What happened?

A perfect storm to blow away dreams and wake up in the American Wasteland.

The solutions are not in play!!!! Instead there’s a feeding frenzy and a political last stand holding our nation hostage, leading to an August 2nd deadline. Who are these folks we have elected? They seem not to care for the greater good, like our leaders of the past. But resemble a new breed of “Carpetbaggers“, who are rock star wannabes. They use public office to enrich themselves, from million dollar book to reality tv shows. Sarah Palin, the tip of the iceberg.

But something inside me, maybe God, maybe not, is telling me, it will all be okay. And these are the times that build character, community and inspire greatness. We have seen it all before, struggle, reminding us not to take our freedoms or our nation for granted. We will survive and still be the country the world aspires to beat and to be!

Something About Kate: Commoner To Be Queen

Posted in America, Autobiographical, New York City, Non-Fiction, Paulette Powell, Poetry, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll, The American Blonde with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2011 by Paulette Powell

On Friday, April 29th, 2011 Bells will Ring when the Prince of Wales takes a Bride at Westminster Abbey, the same location where the memorial service for his Mum, Lady Diana was held in September 1997.

The blushing bride is Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Middleton, a beautiful woman, who caught the eye of the Prince. But most importantly when you see the two together, it appears to be true love.

There are a couple of reasons this brings a smile to my lips, young love can naturally intoxicate everyone but the most important reason for me as an American is, Miss Kate is what the Upper Crust refer to as a “Commoner” with her maternal lineage from mining stock.

An heir to the British Throne to wed a commoner was unheard of only a few decades ago and even caused King Edward VIII to abdicate when he married the American divorcee, Bessie Wallis “Mrs. Simpson” ! This became a heated conversation between my ex, an Englishman and me, an American blonde a few years back.

Our family was on holiday in London, the tabloids were shamelessly covering the escapades of adolescent Prince Will and the “spare wheel“ Prince Harry. One of the news programs interviewed young ladies about who would be a future Princess.

The girls pink faces and sweet chatter was suddenly interrupted by Charles’ baritone voice. “Well, Charlie Girl has a better social standing to snag a Prince than Cortney” making a point that his daughter is from Upper Class English stock, especially considering “Sir Granddad” is a knight and Cortney is “an American Commoner”

I immediately was not amused, call it American pride I reacted to Charlie’s remark, “what makes you able to predict the future? I predict Prince William will marry a commoner because of true love!” From my lips to God’s ears.

But I suspect it was partly due to the world painfully witnessing the unraveling of Charles and Diana’s miserable marriage. Prince Charles was forced to wed, not his love and best friend, Camilla Parker Bowls but virginal Lady Diana Spencer. Like a purebred Philly, picked not for love but for perfect teeth, long legs, she was good breeding stock and above all had a great pedigree.

But Diana, being a “Modern Millie“, was devastated when the hoax was over and found her glass castle shattered into a thousand pieces and did something unheard of, decided not to suffer in silence (like most blue-blooded wives have endured throughout history) Diana divorced Prince Charles! Like an emancipated woman, free to finally find happiness.

Unfortunately, like Marilyn Monroe, an American Cinderella, at the age of 36, The People’s Princess not unlike original fairytales, including The Little Mermaid, quest for true love tragically ended in an untimely death, a car crash in Paris.

And perhaps the pouring out of tears and love for Diana, including a devastated Sir Elton John reprising “Candle in the Wind” in honor of the Queen of Hearts set the tone at the “The Abby” on that very sad day. A tribute produced by her sons confirmed a change in the tide of the Royal family, Diana had won.

Diana gave being Royal a human element, we witnessed her vulnerabilities and her strengths, she made being a Windsor real, American like (maybe it was her touch of America shinning through) she chose to let it all hang out; from her eating disorders, she shared with us, she dared to remove her white gloves to touch the hand of a human being battling Aids! And I will never forget footage of the dashing Diana in khakis vivaciously campaigning against landmines. Disney could not have done a better job in recreating what it means to be a Royal!

She is sorely missed, but her legacy, especially through her adoring son, Prince William lives on and it is another tribute that he is having his wedding where he wants it, in the place where his Mum’s memorial celebrated her life, with the woman he loves.

I suspect there is something about Kate, a sparkle in her eyes, that certain magic that will remind us of his Mum. I imagine Diana will be looking down and smiling on her son and his beautiful commoner and thinking it was well worth it!

From my lips to God’s ears, may England’s new Royal Couple succeed in happiness, and one day parents in England may tell their little girls the story how King William made a commoner his Princess Bride, because he loved her!

The Invisible Veil

Posted in Alabama, America, Autobiographical, Country Music, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2011 by Paulette Powell

I’m undeniably Southern with my soft twang. Just the other day at our local C Town, the lady at the register asked, “Where are you from, Texas?” And of course I get friendly indignant, “Hell NO, I’m from ALABAMA, ROLL TIDE!” …She replied, “I love how you always smile”, I laughed and added “That’s because we Southern girls are trained at an early age to hide pain, especially when our high heels cut into our feet while walking down a beauty pageant runway!” She tore into a loud laugh.

And I’m the first to entertain at Manhattan cocktail parties stories of my Alabama upbringing, regional differences and historical moments.

Like Truman Capote, Harper Lee and Hank Williams Sr, we share a culture that is special to our state including Jubilees, Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, Snake Handling, Muscle Shoves, The Drive-By Truckers and the Crimson Tide!

Alabama cast a long dark shadow too, guard dogs and hose pipes, but from oppression came a defiant young woman, Rosa Parks who would be the mid-wife of the Civil Rights movement. I believe I am proudest of this American history.

I wish I could testify that the Civil Rights Movement succeeded not just on paper but opened minds. We still have to fight the “good fight” of equality for all.

I grew up in a culture that still has a way to evolve in gender equality. I call it the “Invisible Veil”, women second class in the white-bread Deep South. Treated like little girls, it disturbed me when I witnessed my friends before and after marriage, from Daddy’s house to a husband keeper, never allowed their own power.

Once visiting Dixie, I fell ill and saw Dr. Mark Cohen, he commented I was the most difficult and intelligent patient, questioning everything! I made my joke “Because Southern girls are taught to marry doctors or lawyers, not to be one.” But in all seriousness, I had read the Hysterectomy Hoax, inspired by a young woman from Birmingham Alabama, I shared this with Cohen. In a soft-spoken tone he said, “Most of my patients are passive, I could do anything, they never question my authority.”

My ex-husband, Charles Laurence validated me, “it isn’t your imagination” and gave me the book A Turn in the South by V.S. Naipaul. I often recommend it to friends. It underlines several reasons why “a woman’s power” is taken away or hidden through manipulation in the unforgiving South and keeping women objects, like painted dolls beneath an invisible veil.

The family faith I grew up in, along with many other Patriarchal Christian sects that dominate the poorest states align the Bible Belt and continue to give women a back seat ride through life. The Church Of Christ, maintain women are to remain silent in the “Church”, never to become a minister, elected deacon or elder. If a woman is a widow or (scripture) divorcee, she must appeal to a man to be her voice in the church. Now you can see where this could go.

As a child I would scratch my head and think, “But Debra was a judge!” I also would rationalize, “religious doctrine is inspired by God and written by men. Why would God distinguish sex when souls have none? So why make gender a condition, we pay for the sin of Eve, especially if Christ paid for all of our sins?”. My Sunday School teacher could not answer my questions. That was the precise moment I decided to start my own personal quest for truth, I was 12 yrs old.

It became obvious to me, it was Darwin, stronger dominates the weaker, God is not involved.

My life in the South was a struggle for equality, even after I relocated to New York City with my beautiful daughter. Her Father attempted to sue me for custody. My attorney told me at the time “You better marry your boyfriend, Alabama court doesn’t look too kindly at a single Mom raising her daughter in Sin City.”

I was an East Village artist, but also held down an office job that provided me with insurance as well as my own apartment lease, never had an addiction or an arrest.

The court became a circus, when my daughter’s father and his wife cast stones from their glass house. Making judgment calls I associated with a sordid crowd, while holding up a Spider-Man comic book (I was drawn in as issue by John Ramita Sr., the artist who gave Mary Jane Watson her dimples) stating Spidey made the sign of Satan. I was told they would bring me and my daughter back to Alabama where we belonged, this was the 90s, NOT the 1960s!

I won but not after great grief, a dent in my bank account and a deep seeded fear that I could lose my daughter. I would not be free until Cortney was 18. The Judge advised, “Be mindful of your actions in New York City or don’t be surprised if you find yourself back in my court.”

I would have to portray the rehabilitated good housewife, no longer an emancipated woman who could challenge society through her art, poetry and music. I was sentenced again to wear an invisible veil and pay for my sin of living my dream.

Surveying American women’s progress today, we still have a long way to go, according to an analysis of recently released census data conducted by the Women’s Policy Research; Women make only 75.5 cents for every dollar that men earn and the recent downturn continues to put women at a disadvantage, women have not received a significant increase in wages since 2001. 49% of the working poor in America are single Moms raising children in Fatherless households.

That brings me to my conclusion; instead of Americans casting stones at other religions and cultures, especially Islam (that most have never even bothered to pick up the Qur’an or attempt to understand another’s theology) we would be better off leading by example and allow our own women to cast off invisible veils while they break those damn glass ceilings!

My Ring of Fire: Charpter 4 – Sweet Home Alabama

Posted in Alabama, America, Autobiographical, New York City, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by Paulette Powell

I used to think of myself as an East Village artist with a Punk Rock edge…But I’m Southern to the bone. And soon as I get to know you, I’m inviting you over for Sunday supper whipping up Gumbo, black-eyed peas and my usual signature side; collard greens, “Southern Hospitality.”

You might recall in Chapter 1 – Doom or Destiny, I mentioned our daughters had challenges, but together were master minds, even once attempting to charter a plane to fly to our family farm in Cullman Alabama. Cortney’s enthusiasm for our home state was contagious.

It was only natural to invite our new best friends; Charlie, Charlotte and Luke to venture down with us on our annual pilgrimage to see my parents and for Cortney to spend time at Powell’s Chapel on Powell’s Mountain.

Mr. Laurence immediately accepted my invitation, out of infatuation or curiosity, or a little of both. During our budding friendship I would reciprocate his stories with my own. Entertaining him with tales about my favorite relatives; Uncle James, my Father, another Man in Black (a Steelworker advocate) my musician-dancer-artist Mom and my part Scot-Irish, English and Cherokee Indian Grandmother, Gladys B. Renfrow and “Granddaddy” Romey Lee. Both worked as sharecroppers during The Great Depression to become land owners later in life. They lived the American Dream; their story still inspires.

I may be an expat Southerner, but my thoughts and heart are never far from Dixie. I find cultural exchanges with people I meet in the Big Apple, not only a great experience, but sharing stories, can clear up misconceptions. I’ve discovered most people have the same goals, to prosper and give their children opportunities. No matter what race, faith or nationality, this is a common bond we all share. This Mortal Coil is not a scary or lonely place; it is a rainbow of complexity and beauty!

I had began as a singer/song writer/poet in Birmingham, with my band Liz and DIck (co-founded with Matthew Faust Kimbrell, of Jim Bob and the Leisure Suits and The Ho Ho Men) before moving to the East Village to form Dark Blue. Charlie was intrigued by my songs and poems; Uncle Hollis’ Wild Cat Whisky, Cat Fishing at Midnight, The Holy Ghost, Speaking in Tongues, Snake Handling on Sand Mountain, I Got a Gun and my series entitled “My Grandmother Poems”.

Once well known music journalist Mick Brown, met up with us in Soho for dinner, floored when Charlie mentioned we recently attended a Mother’s Day dance at Betty’s Place in Aliceville, Alabama, hosted by the great backwoods Blue’s Shaman, Willie King. Mick in awe, expressed, he had yet to attend an authentic Juke Joint (a Bluesman’s version of a Roadhouse); and now envied Charlie for living one of his dreams.

At that moment a light bulb went off in my head, “Damn! My culture and I, are exotic as darkest Peru, Africa or India to these Englishmen!” That was a wake up call; I would always be an outsider to a certain Brit and Charlie was no exception. Class, bloodlines run deep; his Mother, Lady Laurence would eventually explain to me.

And Charlie was a foreigner to many of my family, someone keeping me in New York City, to raise “the blue eyed girl”. But this could not be further from the truth, love is what binds people and for anyone to object to the relationship of the Southern Bell and Englishman would sound like something from the Victorian Era, but unfortunately, it still exist.

This would be an ongoing threat and royal pain in the ass to our relationship. Charlie and I desired so badly to have family support by both sets of parents, relatives and friends…And to say all did not, would be a lie, some did, but many and I fear this is human nature, too often envy happiness and look for fault, creating a stigmatism of Forbidden Love.

We were from different countries, faiths and class, but both Caucasian! How hard do bi-racial couples have it? I suspect it must be unbearable at times and their love must always be on test mode. I have a lot of open hearted respect for these special couples and their children.

Back to; On the Road with Charlie! We would travel in the Jeep from Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel to catch I-78 across New Jersey, eventually “America Starts Here “ State of Pennsylvania, my Father’s birth place…To Virginia where we would hit the Blue Ridge Mt. Park Way, 469 miles of breathtaking scenic roadway, connecting the Shenandoah National Park to The Great Smoky Mountains!

If you have never taken a great American road trip, be sure you do before you die! You have yet to begin to know the USA until you experience cross-country, North to South or East to West. It is truly an inspirational and humbling experience. It lends a better appreciation of America. In recent years I find more and more tourists heralding from Europe, Australia and other lands from far far away, road tripping. Testifying to our stability as a country, not many unknown threats or war zones and a special country and landscape we share. God has blessed America!

The Appalachian Mountain view is simply gorgeous, not many realize they are older than the Great Rocky Mountains and once boasted a miniature strain of American Bison many moons ago. The flora and fauna is thick and the misty mornings are magical, reminding me of Arthurian mythology.

A few detours included a photo opportunity under the welcome sign of the twin Cities of Bristol, that lay on the border of VA and TENN, Stonewall Jackson’s home and museum and a few roadside venders to purchase boiled peanuts and homemade blackberry/ strawberry jam. One of my favorite stops was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, keeping our eyes open for black bears and visiting the Cherokee reservation in the Smoky Mountains. We were having a grand old time while anticipating Alabama, the heart of Dixie.

Luke was three and a half at the time and called Alabama, “Namabama” he kept asking over and over, “Are we in Namabama yet?”, “Where is Namabama, I want to see Namabama!”. It still warms my heart recalling how exuberant the kids and how happy we all were in those tender years of mutual exploration.

Finally we arrived in “Sweet Home Alabama” at my parent’s farm in Cullman. The kids were let loose; it was as Cortney described to Miss Charlotte. The foothills, big green piney wood mixed with Hemlock, Oak, Pecan, Walnut, Red Bud and Dogwood trees and where people talked with a regional twang.

Charlie finally met Grandmother, her exterior hard but her insides as mushy as a chocolate covered cherry. He took a lovely portrait of us together, only a vague resemblance but it is there. No longer would he challenge my claim of Native American bloodline, he could tell in her profile and facial features, she was of First Nation.

We visited our family cemetery where my Great Grandfather, Chester Lee Lollar was laid to rest and many other English North Country names adorn headstones along with German and Irish, baring witness to the settling of the South. Charlie cited the book “Albion’s Seed” as a great reference; he would later recommend it to my Mother’s first cousin, when we paid my Grandmother’s sister, Margret and her husband, my dear, Uncle James Baker a visit in Berry Alabama. Not far from Tuscaloosa, where I was born and where Grandmother’s parents had resided in the City Limits, Chester with wife Jane.

I’m fortunate to have known my Great Grandfather, Chester; I was 7 when he passed away. A tall thin man with high cheekbones, who owned a minor bird and was an impressive pianist. I can recall a lovely memory; when he would sit me on his lap in front of his upright piano, and put my small hands on his and play! His grandchildren, my Mother, Eleanor Faye and Doyle would follow in his footsteps and learn to play. I can pick a melody by ear, but regret I didn’t follow through with my piano lessons. Something I hope to pick it up again.

Over the valley and through the woods to Great Uncle James’s house we would go. A charismatic man with large jaws and a beautiful baritone singing voice that was as smooth as dark honey. He was deeply religious, in a good way, never self-righteous, he was sincere with his love for Jesus and the gospels. Uncle James knew the “Good Book” but he also loved literature, a country gentleman, philosopher who was gifted with a pen and paper documenting his own short stories and poems. I also credit him for my great love of poetry.

I’d not seen Uncle James in a number of years but understood from Grandmother, he had emphysema. When Charlie and I arrived, I had to choke back tears when I viewed this once vital man of my childhood so frail and on oxygen. But as soon as we came in the door, a spark was lit, before long he was entertaining my Englishman with his comical stories, reading from his journal.

I reminisced with Uncle James and Aunt Greet; how wonderful it was, as a girl when I would visit during summer vacation. What a treat when Uncle James would take me “Critter Hunting”, late at night….On his tractor, a spot light and Sparky the dog, to see what critters we could spy. Opossum, fox, raccoons, deer, while the crickets and frogs played a natural symphony of music all around.

Cousin Doyle soon joined us; playing classical music on the piano and commenting to Charlie, “I bet you didn’t know a hillbilly could play Chopin?” we all laughed as he continued to play.

Charlie was moved by our visit and decided to write it up as a column for his newspaper…When it appeared in the Telegraph of London he was taken aback, upset with the title his editor had given, he said it poked fun, but it didn’t bother me or my family, if anything it recorded one of the last times I would see my dear Uncle James Baker and besides I’m proud to be a Southerner.

My Ring of Fire: Chapter 3 – Big Sky Country

Posted in Alabama, America, Autobiographical, Country Music, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by Paulette Powell

Before I knew it, I fell into a burning ring of fire, singed by pure passion. The slightly knackered Englishman and the Southern Bell, both rejected our own cultures but curious for each others. As a teen I became a fan of the British-Rock bad boys, Mick, Keef and Bowie, smoking Dunhill’s and drinking Earl Grey; while Charlie, similar to The Stones, discovered many things Americana-sexy are from the “Forbidden South”. Not the Right Wing Conservative distortion shoved down the world’s throat, but True Blood, The Blues, Jazz, juke joints, wild cat whiskey and devil moons over Bourbon Street.

Charles became my mirror with his camera…As I recall this memory, I can hear The Velvet Underground’s lyrics and see the look on Charlie’s face when he announced; “I’m taking you to the Rocky Mountains, where I’m going to make you fall in love with me!” But more than that; through his eyes, he made me fall in love with myself.

I am from the unforgiving South, I wanted to run away from Alabama, come to the Big Apple, reinvent myself, lose my Southern accent, and the images of the “Second Coming” hammered, vividly by the preachers of Hell-fire and Brimstone sermons, in my head. Creating fear to bring to God never works, only through unconditional love can we find peace with our maker.

June and Johnny Cash knew that and now I was on my own informative journey as an artist, poet, chanteuse to discover how worthy I am of my creator’s love. My life would not be complete without Charles and “on the road with Charlie” was my marking post to grow and become the woman I am and love today.

In return I became Charlie’s muse, reading and setting his words on fire with my enthusiasm. We would collaborate often, and loved encouraging him to step into my world of music. This was a real break through for him; as a child he was labeled tone-deaf by his music teacher, who announced it to the whole choir, then threw him out. I find shutting down creativity in a child tragic, and can leave a scar for life. He never again attempted to sing but he would do spoken word.

During a recording session, Charlie spoke my words in his beautiful baritone voice (I often encouraged him to do voice over work) while I borrowed an interview with Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, the Wiccan Widow of the Rock & Roll poet and Sex God, Jim Morrison; throwing his words against a canvas of experimental moody music played by my band, Dark Blue. It was wonderful, introducing him to the natural high of music. (this story will have its own installment, stay tuned).

Back to Big Sky Country with kids in tow…We rented a log cabin outside of Billings Montana. In “Big Sky Country” snow flurries are seen all year round. I was mesmerized by the lack of light pollution and discovered how bright the stars really are, diamonds in the sky. It was church, a holy place; you can’t help when you view The Great Rocky Mountains, to think “GOD LIVES HERE!”

The girls’ lessons with big Sunny proved to be a valuable investment on long rides along mountain trails. Lukie, being a real boy was in his natural element, like all wild critters running free and loving it. I of course am one of those Moms, who encouraged kids to play “Cowboys and Indians” and often caught heck from parents in Manhattan. To my amazement, it was thought not politically correct. Hogwash!

One of my favorite images, Charlie enlarged and hung in our home, was that of little feet with cowboy boots dangling from a loft with the Mountain View from a window as the back drop. A masterpiece!

Charlie was obsessed with Montana’s big open spaces, where you can drive for miles before you come across another living soul. He would say, “England and the North East is congested with over developing, ugly strip malls and exurbia has ruined many a scenic route”. Thank the inspirational foresight of our Founding Fathers for the American Eden, Yellow Stone Park, so America would always have a home where the buffalo roam.

The American Bison was Charlie’s favorite animal, named Tatanka by the Lakota Sioux, and it was obvious to me that this was Charlie’s animal spirit guide.

It would be hard to imagine Yellow Stone without the American Bison, but they were nearly wiped out by the 19th century. Primarily by white market hunters, the railroad and U. S. Army sanctions that endorsed the slaughter of the beasts. But the darkest reason was to weaken the First Nation population by removing their main food source, pressuring them to relocate to reservations (refugee camps)! Without the spirit of the Great Tatanka, the Plains Indians were forced to leave or starve to death.

It is amazing when you realize, if not for another insightful man, James “Scotty” Philip of South Dakota, our children might not have delighted in the buffalo herd mistaking our Jeep as one of its own! From his strain the American Bison or Bovine was reintroduced to the National Forest!

Philip’s herd was purchased, five calves, from Dug Carlin who had roped the babies in the Last Great Buffalo hunt of 1881. A sacred gift to his Native American wife, who missed the beast of her childhood; the heard grew under their care to 1,200 head by 1911! From their love we still have the Great Tatanka today!

We explored the Beartooth Mountains via the Beartooth Pass to make our way to Old Trail Town. The Beartooth Highway is part of U.S. Highway 212 and dare-devils along the Montana-Wyoming border; the Beartooth Pass approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft (1,600 m) to 8,000 ft (2,400 m) in 12 mi (19 km). It is literally one of the most breathe taking scenic routes in America’s daring landscapes. Without danger, it host severe thunderstorms and blizzards all year and takes around two hours to drive.

Finally we arrived in Old Trail Town, where several Western Legends came to life and found a final resting place. This is where Charlie entertained with his story telling, how the West was tamed by derelicts, loners, cowboys and outlaws. Far from the heroic candy coated images of idealistic portrayals in Hollywood’s Spaghetti Westerns. HBO’s Deadwood was more like it.

It took the roughest and the toughest Irish, Scotch-Irish, Welch, French and German blood lines to weather the “Injuns” an elements. If you ever think the outlaws were bad, make NO mistake, the Rangers were BADDER!

Old Trail Town lies where Buffalo Bill in 1895 surveyed the original Cody town site, at the Wyoming–gateway to Yellowstone Park’s East entrance. Local historian and Archeologist, Bob Edgar who is part Comanche, created this great preservation of Americana Western history. Bob took it upon himself to rescue a few bad boys and a girl to relocate their graves and several historical cabins from 1879 to 1900 when he heard they were being torn down or forgotten.

Bob’s great insight, like the Fathers’ of Yellowstone Park, has saved National treasures for future generations, hats off. Included in the collection; The Hole in the Wall Cabin used by Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang; Curley’s Cabin, the Crow Indian scout to General Custer in the Battle of the Little Big Horn; and the River Saloon which was frequented by cowboys, outlaws and gold miners.

Bullet holes pieced many of the structures, bleeding sunlight reminded me the cost of legends is often a lot of blood-letting! Just a few yards away my observation was validated by the cemetery, the final resting place for several historical figures.

I was excited to learn my childhood hero; John Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnson (1824-1900) rested there with a monument erected in his honor. His story was tragic at times but a resilient lawful personality who helped tamed the West. The “liver eating” name, John created to strike fear into hearts; Native American folk-lore tells if a man consumes his enemy’s vital organs he gains their strength.

The Scotch-Irish New Jersey native took the name “Liver Eating” after a day of trapping he came home to find his beloved Flathead Indian wife and unborn child mutilated on his cabin floor at the hands of Crow Indians. His personal war against the Crows lasted for 12 years! It was rumored slain Crows were found gutted and their liver missing, some claimed they witnessed the mountain man feasting on human liver.

When the War between States broke out, he decided to enlist in the Second Colorado Calvary. I can imagine that war was a good distraction from personal revenge and heartache.

In 1882, after he ended his service with an honorable discharge, Johnston became the first Marshall at Coulson (Billings) Montana and in 1888, the first Sheriff of Red Lodge, Montana. This man sounds far more fascinating than the character created and portrayed by Robert Redford (maybe Brad Pitt should produce and star in a more informative movie? Redford could direct, hint, hint).

Others who keep company in the burial ground include; Jim White Buffalo Hunter 1828-1880; William A. Gallagher and Blind Bill Houlihan — Murdered 1894; Jack Stilwell Frontiersman 1850-1903; Phillip H. Vetter Trapper 1855-1892.

But my favorite is the only woman reburied there, Belle Drewry (1867-1897). The Lady in Blue was perhaps one of the first American free-spirited women, staking her claim among the Saints and Sinners of the Old West. In1890 at the bursting ripe age of 23, Belle arrived, by stage-coach to Arland, Wyoming.

Founded by Vic Arland, Arland was an infamous outpost for misfits, wranglers, surveyors and women of ill repute. Located twenty-five miles south of present day Cody; a notorious town, blood often painted the streets red. This place is where Drewry used her talents working in the local saloon and dance hall, to make a living and become a property owner. And where she met and fell in love with William A. Gallagher and fraternized with other historical bad boys including; Blind Bill Hoolihan, Robert Parker aka Butch Cassidy, Jack Bliss and the “Woodriver Horse Thieves” gang.

What would inspire a young attractive woman not to settle down to become wild as the wind, never to be held but a rambling rose? I suspect a desire to own one ’s self, selling pleasure but never her soul, holding tight the reigns of her destiny! Freedom is a powerful drug. But Belle was not only a free bird, she was loyal to a fault and bailed a many a cowboy out of jail, giving him food and a warm place to rest his weary head in a rugged country.

Belle became well-known for throwing a fearless good time. But there is more than meets the eye; Belle was involved in a love triangle, apparently her relationship with Gallagher went sour and another man had caught her eye, Bill Wheaton. Gallagher became so enraged he beat her nearly to death. Payback was Wheaton shooting him between the eyes. Blind Bill threatened vengeance for his close compatriot’s demise, but before he could, was mysteriously shot in the back. Wheaton was accused and sentenced to 8 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary, never to kiss Belle’s ruby lips again.

With Wheaton away, Belle took a new lover, John Corbett, an emotional man who found it hard to shake grudges. Corbett had a long going feud with the mail carrier, Jesse Conway; for one reason or another he became paranoid Jesse was planning his death and decided he should get rid of Conway, before Conway got rid of him. John enlisted Belle and her girls to throw a party in the New Year of 1897.

The Spider’s web worked, it enticed Conway and his rowdy bunch to crash and revel at Belle’s. It was reported; “Everyone was drinking and the wild gang proceeded to shoot up the place. To end the uproar Belle pulled a six-shooter from a hiding place and shot the leader of the cowboy gang, Jesse Conway dead. A few days later, an unknown assassin came into the house and killed Belle Drewry and her girls apparently in revenge, for their comrade’s death.” Arland would not recover from the mass murder of the four women and it soon faded into a ghost town.

Only thirty years old and Belle Drewry was laid to rest, wearing a cobalt blue silk dress with a black sash in a red wood coffin; she was given a proper Christian burial with no expense spared. Attesting to her bigger than life persona, it had been said the Auburn beauty had a farewell gun salute; this was discovered to be true, apparently during the relocation of her grave to Old Trail Town, 45-70 and 45-60 cartridge cases where found thrown into her grave before the earth covered her coffin. Her original head stone read, on a windy and lonely mountain top; “The Lady in Blue, with a Heart so True”

“One might imagine the boom of the rifles, the rolling echo across the hills and the black powder smoke drifting away with the wind like departing ghosts. Perhaps, a fitting farewell from a wild land.” For a wild woman who could not be tamed and Western History could not forget.

My Ring of Fire: Chapter 2 – Whiskey in the Dark

Posted in America, Autobiographical, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by Paulette Powell

Charlie and I fell into a burning ring of fire. We didn’t plan on it, I don’t think anyone does. But sometimes two people meet and wild horses can’t keep them apart. This was true about our relationship. What began as friends, grew and soon crossed a line of ultimate intimacy; soul mates. We were warned by others, who perhaps saw what was around the corner or not. Uncle James cautioned, “Y’all are wading in mighty deep water”. But others, “friends”, I believe were looking out for their own priority relationship. And perhaps a little jealous, great love is often envied, especially when two people are bigger than life.

The Man in Black

Years later we would have our approval for star-crossed love, during an audience with June Carter and Johnny Cash. Legends from my childhood, Johnny was the working class, downtrodden’s hero and June, the darling of The Carter Family, American folk and Country music royalty. When I was small I would sneak in Uncle Bill’s room while he was on duty at the fire station, to play his vinyl, Ring of Fire. The first song I learned by heart. I can still hear Grandmother sweetly scold, “Now you know you’re not supposed to be in Uncle Bill’s room.” allowing me to continue to play the recording over and over.

Charlie surprised me one afternoon while popping by his Soho office to join him for lunch. As I walked into his glass cubicle, he had a big smile on his face, “Guess who I’ve been assigned to interview and you are coming with me?” I paused for a moment, “Willie Nelson”, he shook his head “No, guess again”, I replied, “No way, no way noooooooooowaaaaaaaaaaay, JOHNNY CASH!?” He smiled his jack o lantern smile, and exclaimed “YES!” To San Francisco we would go, to meet Cash and visit City Lights book store.

Charlie was to interview The Man in Black, right before the release of American II, Unchained, Johnny’s comeback produced by Rick Rubin. When I told my friend, Roger, another journalist, who we were meeting, he exclaimed, “Good luck, one of the hardest entertainers to interview, he normally gives you 30 minutes if you’re lucky.” I smiled and replied I would report back.

We met Johnny at his hotel, he was just like I imagined; worn from years, a bear of a man with gentle hands as he took mine to say hello. A few minutes passed when I noticed he started to relax, talking about his childhood, from the same neck of the wood as Granddaddy, Romey Renfrow. We shared Scott-Irish, pioneer stock bloodline. Forty minutes passed and we were still chewing the fat, when all of a sudden a woman’s voice called out, “John?”. She came barreling in the room, “Well Hello, I’m June”, she exclaimed, “nice to meet y’all” My heart jumped a beat, June was a great artist in her own right and now she joined our conversation!

The four of us talked for hours, it was like visiting my family, Charlie would comment. June sharing, they were respectively with other partners when they fell in love. At first they tried to ignore the attraction, but sometimes people meet and the two become a Force of Nature. I asked June, if she felt she hurt anyone? “I suppose we did, but it was so strong, meant to be, I believe God has something to do with it or it would not have happened, he always has a plan” And of course now it’s well-known that June and the Carter family helped Johnny kick his speed habit, if not perhaps he would have joined Elvis, his Sun Record alumni, the “King of Rock and Roll” and died far too young.

The next evening we sat with Carlene Carter and watched as June and Johnny lit up the Fillmore stage, I could hear her sing every song with her Mom and Step-dad. Afterwards they held court or should I say church and took time to meet many of their adoring fans. This had to be one of the most spiritually moving moments of my life, to see the diversity of ages and feel the love all around. I believe great men and women have a calling to touch others with their stories, underlining that we are all just human, stumbling through this mortal coil.

Back to ’93; Marion the Nanny was part-time and didn’t do overnight or weekends due to college. I loved nesting with the children; helping with school projects, throwing over the top birthday parties. So I naturally stepped in when Charlie was called away. Often he would return in the am, while the children slept and we would talk until dawn. Telling me stories of his life in the fast lane of journalism, especially covering war zones. This is when he shared his adventures; racing Max Hastings to the other side of the Falklands to riding with the Northern Alliance, along with their leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, The Lion of Panjshir, during the “Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan“. Little did I realize at the time, his Middle East war experience would play a major role in my own life.

The Powell-Laurence family looked forward to horseback riding weekends in upstate NY, but they were only day trips. Cold Springs was beautiful and we hated returning to the city so soon. Charlie decided to book a cabin for an overnight and I immediately said yes to play pioneers in the Catskill Mountains! The girls were so excited, jumping up and down; they could really pretend to be sisters now. Luke loved helping “Daddy” make a fire, I got to be granny, making her fried chicken, collard greens, corn bread and introduced “Critter Hunting” a family tradition my Uncle James had introduced me to, driving the country roads at night, spotting coons, fox and opossums in the dark.

On our first over night, early winter snow dusted the evergreens outside the log cabin, with the kids tuckered out and asleep, we crossed a line. We shared bourbon by the fire, another and another. While shadows danced around, our eyes locked hours in conversation. When I finally turned away, I felt a big wet tongue lick my cheek! Electricity ran through my body and I turned to face my big bad wolf. We shared our first kiss. But we did not make love, only began to anticipate the moment when we would.

The next morning was the brightest day, the sky broke crystal blue and the snow sparkled like the glitter on a Christmas card. We played innocently with the kids, but something felt different. As we packed the jeep to head back to the City, Charlie and I shared a long gaze. I believe that was the exact moment, we fell hard, in that ring of fire.

Written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore
Recorded by Johnny Cash on 3/25/63
Number one – Country Chart; Number 17 – Pop Chart

Ring of Fire

Love Is A Burning Thing
And It Makes A Fiery Ring
Bound By Wild Desire
I Fell Into A Ring Of Fire

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

The Taste Of Love Is Sweet
When Hearts Like Ours Meet
I Fell For You Like A Child
Oh, But The Fire Went Wild

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher
And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

Next installment, My Ring of Fire; Big Sky Country

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