Route 222 from Lancaster to Kutztown smells savagely of cowshit at this time of year.
Roadside attractions include Terry Hill, a closed water park on the Allentown side of Kutztown. The owner shut it down a few years ago; he was in his mid-70s and wanted to retire.
Outside the locked gates of Terry Hill stands a pirate — there’s no mistaking him, he’s the real deal; peg leg, sword and eyepatch. He must be 15 feet tall. Presumably he is wooden, though I cannot vouch.
He looks as though he were lobbying the passing cars, looking for a saviour.
Of course his real game is intimidation. Few pirates are truly friendly. The core concept defies friendly. You don’t do pirates if you really want friendly, especially not ones with swords and battle-scars.
Yet, here is this one in search of a (moneyed) ally to wipe off the dust and bring the people back.
He has the same sheepish air as the indicted mobster who suddenly starts popping up in newspaper pictures advertising his philanthropy. He’s not such a bad fellow, really; it’s just that people say such terrible things about him.
Perhaps someone will come to his aid.
Not content to leave it to chance, our friend the pirate is out there tonight, peering through the darkness at whatever cars pass.
A 24-hour canvasser.
# # # # #
I passed through that stretch of road listening to the Grateful Dead, 45 years ago today, playing a show in Providence, R.I.
That was during their boogie period, when they were down a drummer and between good keyboardists, and they spent a lot of time lighting up stuff like “Bertha” and “Johnny B. Goode” … not the most rewarding brainfood, but good driving music.
And as I listened to “Mama Tried,” with the late Jerome Garcia laying licks over the chord changes of the late Merle Haggard, I found the idea of Prince’s death easier to take.
Prince’s passing drew a stream of comments about how we’d never see another creator like him, just as Merle Haggard’s did a week or two ago. As songwriters, singers and performers, they were distinctive, groundbreaking and irreplaceable.
This is true enough. But thankfully, genius is not an exhaustible resource. Cultural traditions continue to bear fruit and cross-pollinate. We never get the exact same genius twice, but the new generations carry enough of the old DNA to make us smile knowingly and nod our heads while they take us somewhere new.
(There will never be another Jimi Hendrix, for instance. But the sight of another flamboyant, sexy, charismatic black man playing ferocious guitar would have made Hendrix smile. Prince took a few ideas from Hendrix, a few from Sly Stone, a few from any number of others, and let his own style grow up from those roots.)
We will always have what the old generations gave us, like the sound of the Dead in Providence in April ’71. It’s still capable of taking us wherever we’re used to going.
And we know — because Prince showed us in his time, and Merle Haggard showed us in his, and Jerry Garcia in his — that someone with new ideas, a new vision and a new sound will come along, probably when we’re not expecting it.
So we watch, and listen, and try to keep an open mind for when they show up.