Shane Cooley & Bisou
Yellow Springs, Ohio - September, 2020
Shane Cooley & Yellow Springs, Ohio
I’ve just left a place embedded in the heartland of America called Yellow Springs, Ohio. I drove there from Virginia, after visiting with my family. I left my folks’ place, crashed for a night with Littleberry (the guitar shredder legend from Potlikkor) in his fine and awesome woodsy house in Lyndhurst, VA. Then, a day of journeying west on I-64 (mostly), through West Virginia (eerie state… in a cool way… like a gritty fairytale-land), eventually into Ohio.
Shane and I’d been texting as I neared the intentional community where he and his wife Jade had been quarantining (and still are, as of this writing). He came out to meet me at the one-lane covered bridge, by the mailboxes. I followed him in his newly-purchased badass old Volvo down to their community. Jade’s mother, who owns a Caring business, had located Shane and Jade such a cool unused house to rent, as the owner was a client. It was among the other homes of the community, all very much ensconced in Ohio fields and woods and nature.
After greeting Shane at our cars and again outside the house with Covid-era air-hugs and great-to-see-ya-dude grins, I was led inside and there greeted Jade, who was in her scrubs and leaving for a Caring shift. Before she did, she told me about the history of Yellow Springs, and how it was always a funky place – like a little Austin in the middle of Ohio. I heard of caverns that dwelt beneath the town, from which curious energy emitted, it was said. I mention this because – whether related or unrelated to this – the next day, I would experience what I can only describe as a frequency shift in the air of the place. I was sitting outside with Shane on his back steps, drinking our morning coffees, and everything just weirdly shifted… both my ears popped… Something strange is about that place, but in a good way. But I was not at that moment yet, for I had only just arrived…
Shane showed me around, and I transferred my journey-rig of road gear (suitcase, backpack, guitar, bag of coffee stuff and snacks) into the spare room where I’d be sleeping on what I will now consider to be probably the most comfortable and benevolent futon I have ever known. It was very gentle and inordinately loving, for a futon.
Shane was readying to play a Friday-night livestream show… I nestled down on their swallowy couches with one of their cats, and Shane began to do his thing in front of his camera-mounted phone, with a cool light, sitting at his piano with his longtime acoustic guitar within reach. I relaxed and took in the show, from my hidden audience-seat, and absorbed his work in performance.
I’ve noted this before (and probably will again): Shane’s professionalism as a musician is unrelenting. The guy is an inspiration of focus on his mission to accomplish the execution of his role in humanity as a natural-born singersongwriter. I dug some old stuff I recognized that he played, and, as always, I took in the new [and hence unfamiliar] stuff with that special zest of encountering something fresh out of the oven, like fresh bread. I was particularly impressed with his new songs “Morning Dove” and “Vacancy” (or something about a vacancy) – I’m sure these will be born into recorded sonic forms, when the time is ripe.
After the show, he and I hung out with his and Jade’s downstairs housemate, Travis, who, as it turned out, was (and is) an exquisite painter. I didn’t catch his last name, otherwise I would get it in here. I talked to him about potentially buying one of his paintings – but, the one I felt I dug enough to potentially spend something like two hundred bucks on, he had already donated to Shane and Jade; and they hung it over their couch in their living room, and that was and is the right destiny for that painting (at least for now). It was cool to watch Travis making his own frames (which he did while Shane and I and a neighbor, Dan, were hanging out).
Latenight, Shane and I tried to watch a documentary on UFOs and both fell asleep.
The next day, we went into town. I bought peppers at a farmer’s market, and that was all I ate until dinner, just snacking on them raw. It was invigorating. I also took my time and hunted up an outstanding bottle of 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which I figured might be right at a lovely age for drinking (as I knew we were going to Jade’s mom’s land at a river house for a cookout that evening). In our somnambulistic wanderings through town, I also picked up an enjoyable translation of Pasternak’s poetry (I am a sucker for My Sister Life, one of my favorite books of poetry; I’ll almost always be suckered into purchasing a novel unfamiliar translation that somehow crosses my path). We picked up a focaccia loaf for Jade (and Shane got her flowers), and we rolled back to their house, and we brought guitars back out for a while (we’d played heavily the night before, after my arrival – as can be expected when Shane and I drift into each other’s orbits once more, on the journey of our lives).
We went to Jade’s mom’s land. I had heard Shane, while he was performing his livestream, make some shoutouts to a watcher whom he called “Mama Woof.” I now learned that this was Jade’s mom. I thought that this was the coolest name I had heard in a while.
At the land, I met Mama Woof (who had actually been going by “Mama Wolfe,” as Wolfe was her last name… I had misheard… I asked if I could continue the “Woof,” and she was happy to let me do so).
Man, we had a great time. I started to dip into the Pinot, which was exceedingly on-point and effortlessly hitting just the right spot. I played Mama Woof’s boyfriend, Ron, in pingpong for a while in their garage, and he was very genuine, cool, and interesting. As was Mama Woof; who struck me as very close to nature, and very benevolent in the unobtrusive way that the good earth is. Shane and I brought out the guitars: we had a long, adventurous session outside by the narrow riverwater below the Ohio land, cloaked in woods, and we ate outstanding fajitas. Ron beckoned me to try some cherry tomatoes from his garden. I did. They were typically delicious.
Friends swung by. I liked everyone.
Mama Woof and I shared a moment on the couches in her garage, after I selected the soundtrack to Valley of the Dolls from her vinyl, and put it on the turntable, and then we listened to the opening narration, and I appreciated Sharon Tate on the album cover, bold eyeliner, on the bed with Patty Duke and the other girl: still one of the most arresting photos of the female human I've ever seen.
Again, Shane and I tried to do UFOs that night, and passed out. Beforehand, I’d whipped up latenight Velveeta, and had a searching, soulful conversation with Jade about marriage. The female-perspective wisdom of my good friends’ wives has almost always proven to be revelatory and poignantly profound. Jade’s insight was no exception. Shane, too, offers me wisdom; but, as men, especially as two men without sisters, the female perspective does often elude our natural comprehension… we often need help, some goodhearted push, to jog our understandings into a new and wiser place. The conversing with Shane and Jade – and all of the Yellow Springs people – was of rich texture.
In the morning, Jade sent me on my way with a buffalo tooth, a spraybottle of rosewater she had made herself, and some mescal seeds for travel totems (Jade and Mama Woof are Shawnee, and, as far as I can see, are both naturally wired into the spirit in the earth). I will keep the tooth and seeds in my pocket close to my body for the rest of this roadtrip.
Shane and I did a strong farewell sit/play on his back steps in the sunshine, while the rooster crowed, and the morning happily played with wind like breath. We talked of our home area in Virginia, swapping anecdotes and tales; some about my brother, Wes, whom Shane once did a radio show with, when he was fifteen (as was I, though I didn’t know him at the time) and Wes was eighteen. We played each other – for fun – old songs of ours, written when we were teenagers or in our early twenties. The blessed compositions never age.
We saluted Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, a Virginia boy himself, whose work meant (and still means) so, so much to me, and to Shane, as well. We played some Linkous on guitar in the sunshine and wind. We felt his presence with us; I felt it as I played, and sang, mysteriously just “knowing” the chords as we ventured into as-yet-unlearned Sparklehorse songs… mysteriously being “given” the lyrics in my mind again, too. It was magical, and glorious, and haunting – in the finest way.
And I shoved on. Goodbye, Yellow Springs, Ohio. Goodbye Dave Chapelle, who apparently lives there, not far from Shane and Jade (or “Shade,” or, as Ron pointed out, “Jane”). Goodbye, you embedded energy-spot on the continental U.S. Goodbye to the one-lane covered bridge, the Ohio butterflies, and heartland river – its water the blood of the earth.