I’ve been working on a treatment for a movie for a while. Originally set in Wales, I’ve since ‘relocated’ it to Tennessee. It’s called The Country Preacher, and is about a man who travels the countryside, visiting different small towns and their churches, preaching the Good Book. He doesn’t, however, travel light, bringing with him all the baggage that comes with bourbon, bullets and womanizing. Whilst his heart is in the right place, he is a bit of a scoundrel at the same time, constantly causing conflict and chaos in the towns that he visits – and yes, it is set in the present time.
In my research for this, last year I was ordained as a pastor myself. I can legally marry people, I can open a church, my own church, and it cost me a dollar, one single dollar. Yet, religion is a huge business here in America. Where I live we have two gas stations that are also convenience stores and that’s it, apart from no less than at least ten churches in the small five mile radius, in the heart of Tennessee. Indeed, there are more churches in Tennessee, per head, than any other state I believe. There are massive churches, there are small churches, like the one nearest, a lovely church run by a a nice man, a pastor, and his wife. They have a congregation of about thirty people.
On any given Sunday morning, television here is overtaken by programmes from churches, promoting their church, usually paying to air their program; churches that encourage members of their congregation to donate a percentage of their hard earned wages to the church each week or month. At the same time, the Pastor of some of these churches are living a life of luxury, living in mansions, with private helicopters, brand new, beautiful cars and limousines.
Many of the pastors of small churches are very sincere but the larger churches are run as a business, offering services and advice that have no place in a church – Jesus called temples ‘a den of thieves’ and this has not changed it seems.
It is common here that people in prison ‘find’ Jesus, I wrote a song about this on the album Country Tales and Hobo Trails. It helps with their parole applications. One very prominent local pastor of a big, very popular church, is a convicted murderer. He killed a woman and went to prison, but was released early. He appears as one of the least likely God worthy men I’ve ever seen, there is nothing holy about him at all. A local paper here in Nashville has been exposing him for a long time and yet some people refuse to see the truth, that he is abusing their need and want to believe.
It’s not just in America though. When I had the theatre in England on Sundays it had been used by a local ‘church’ for their services. It was run by an American couple, who lived in a gorgeous, huge beach house in the area, yet the congregation were mainly very poor people. It was known locally as the ‘Church of the Last Resort’, as most had tried other churches and had failed to find what they were looking for – perhaps they never will,
I don’t intend to open a church of course, but if I did, meetings would be in a field or a barn, and there would be no collection or ‘blessings’; of any kind, other than perhaps food and drink for the meeting. You don’t need to attend a church to be a good Christian or a good believer in any faith, it is what is in your heart and your mind that solely matters, and how you live your life, and treat others.
You cannot sin because you think you’ll be forgiven at church next Sunday. It doesn’t work that way.
I once worked at a Christian radio station in California, presenting a show of songs with messages, not necessarily by Christian artists, (U2 broke America through servicing Christian radio stations first, as have a number of other artists). People at the station were very sincere in their beliefs. I hate to see that belief being taken advantage of by anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be in the name of Jesus.
This has been a contrasting year in that at times it has seemed to have passed so quickly, and yet at other times, so slowly.
The move on to the land, setting up the home here, putting in a new drive a third of a mile long, water lines, septic tank and electric all proved very stressful, and I am not sure that if I had known then what it would entail I would have gone ahead with it.
Of course it didn’t help that we did it at the hottest time of the year, which we had said we wouldn’t do but delays took it out of our control.
Sitting here now though it all seems worthwhile. I am on our deck, the three dogs asleep by me, looking out to our fields and trees. We get deer up to the house most mornings and evenings and the birds are amazing, red cardinals, bluebirds (the state bird of Tennessee no less), vultures and so many more, plus squirrels, groundhogs, coyotes and snakes – it is a bit like living on a safari park here on Hickory Moon Farm! (A beautiful bird of prey, beige, with a huge wing span, has literally just flown by me here on the deck, into the woods).
Now it is autumn, or fall, the leaves have fallen from the trees in the woods that line our land and the trucks on the highway are now more audible as they make their way across the state line to or from Kentucky, which is about fifteen miles away from us. It conjures up for me images of bootleggers, driving down back roads with their contraband evading the sheriffs.
I have to say that everyone has been so amazingly friendly and helpful, Southern hospitality at its finest. There is an underlying current of racism in some places and with some people, stuck as they are in the past, ignorance still prevailing.
Also we are in the middle of Tennessee and hunting! Again it is not for us but respect that it is a way of life for many here. Deer are the main victims, squirrels and rabbits smaller targets. Our neighbours across the fields are avid hunters, and can and tin up deer meat that lasts them the year.
There are a number of meat processing firms in the area, and deer is one of the main meats. We will be using them for our own use though – we plan to get a cow next year and subsequently a calf. We are also getting goats, for meat and for dairy as well as chickens, ducks and possibly turkeys.
Once the holiday season is over we have a lot of work ahead of us – ploughing the fields and sowing our seeds! We intend to be as self sufficient as possible.
We plan to get a couple of donkeys, as they are apparently great protectors of stock from coyotes, of which there are a number around here.
All of this has had an impact of course on my work, my recording and writing. The studio is set up to go but I have put back the release and publication of the new CD and book until next year, when I can give them the attention needed.
Our dogs have settled in and love it here, running in the fields until they can run no more. Hope, our chocolate lab that we flew in from the UK, is like a puppy, defying her nine years. Willow, our wolf dog is now huge but loving, playful and protective, and they have now been joined by Miss Daisy Mae, a bloodhound mix puppy who has certainly made her presence known! She is also loving, very naughty, and is going to also be huge. What have we done?!? They all get on now wonderfully and as I type this Miss Daisy Mae is barking at Willow – no fear!
There is also Possum, our cat who thinks he is a dog. He comes down the field with us when we take the dogs, and sleeps right next to one of them every night. I simple do not understand cruelty to animals and would easily lock up (at least) any one found hurting an animal but it happens. We rescued Miss Daisy Mae from a shelter and Possum, and will probably rescue more.
We had tried to survive without a landline but have this week succumbed. The signal for our cell phones is appalling. We are also having to do with only 15gb a month through our satellite internet service – we were using 350gb before we moved!
One of the best things has been our deck, 360 square feet, it’s another room! Covered by old red tin roofing, (very Southern, the rain falling onto the roof, wonderful sound), the deck has a bar, table and chairs and a vintage television and video, with two further chairs, and heating is courtesy of a big chiminea. There’s also a grill, a fridge, another television at the bar, and finally, a hot tub! Sitting in this at night, with the stars above, trees blowing gently in the wind in the distance and nature all around is simply surreal – and hugely therapeutic!
Indeed the stars are amazing. There is no light pollution at all here so on clear nights we can make out constellations and planets and it has been wonderful, taking me back to my childhood interest and imagination regarding space. The meteor shower in late summer, with shooting star after shooting star, took our breaths away.
It has been hard work, and there is a lot more ahead early next year, but it is and will be so rewarding.
Well I’d better finish for now and take the short cut across the fields and walk the quarter of a mile up to our mailbox, passing our new beehives, and then back again. I’ve lost thirty pounds at least this year, without trying, (and much needed!).
There’s a storm predicted for tonight so also time to ‘batten down the hatches’.
We live in such a volatile world. Unprovoked violence on the streets of most towns and cities and it seems the constant threat of a cold war.
On Sunday I watched an excellent episode of the well written TV show, Madam Secretary. The story line was about a Russian nuclear submarine that had entered US waters. Matters escalated and depth charges were released by the US Navy and the submarine fired a torpedo, which hit the US destroyer. It turned out there submarine was in trouble, and most of the crew died. It showed just how close we still are to a war, but it’s all fiction of course – but it’s not.
Last year there was the incident off the Norway/Swedish coast of a Russian submarine seen very close to the mainland, and there was an incident a few years ago when another Russian sub also got into trouble and the crew died.
Yesterday British fighter jets had to ‘escort’ two Russian bombers from entering UK airspace. This is the latest in a long line of such acts by the Russians, their bombers and jet fighters seemingly about to enter UK airspace, and it has been the same on the US coast.
It seems to be a game to Putin and military leaders, but this posturing has to stop, but it won’t. God forbid but one day someone will go too far and the retaliation will be catastrophic.
Today the Russians have announced that they are resuming sales of missiles to Iran, putting peace with Israel in jeopardy for example, and there is growing tension in South Asia.
We can only hope that sense and humanity prevails.
One thing that visitors to the area soon comment about are the number of churches.
Religion is big business here, and that is exactly what it is, a business.
Yesterday, one of the very first television preachers or evangelists I saw over here, Robert Schuller, passed away. His famous church, the Crystal Cathedral, is in Southern California, and for years he was on every Sunday morning with his sermons and service. I never once saw him ask for money or donations. Unfortunately a few years ago it all went bankrupt and the wonderful church was sold to a nearby Roman Catholic church.
I believe there are more churches in Tennessee per head than anywhere else in the US. Even where our land is there is, in the middle of the countryside, there is a church, The Rocky Creek Baptist church, within walking distance.
One of the most ‘successful’ churches in the Nashville area is led by a convicted murderer. Yesterday I saw a commercial on television for this church, with its new restaurant, free wi-fi and very beautiful, new spacious building. A local paper has had this pastor in its sights for a number of years, as it appears he has never shown remorse over the death of the woman he murdered. Now, I’ve never met him, but a couple of my family have. He is the least Godly person – arrogant, rude and cold. I even wrote a song about him, Jailhouse Jesus and the Preacher, which was on the Country Tales and Hobo Trails album. He claims, like many other prisoners, to have found God, in prison. Of course this helps with their parole.
I am also aware that members of his congregation actually donate a percentage of their earnings to his church, on a regular basis, no matter how little they earn, or how much.
Faith is such a personal thing, and I feel that respecting other people’s faiths and beliefs is paramount to a safe world. I have a friend who was born Jewish, has tried most faiths through his life and is now a devoted Christian, saying that Jesus spoke to him one day from the television, and told him to stop smoking weed! His social media page is full of rants against Palestine, updates throughout every day. It is a dangerous obsession. I did try to steal his soapbox one day but he caught me. I also made sure not to be stuck in a car with him for anytime amount of time, the few occasions I did I seriously thought of jumping out of the moving car, or pushing him out. He is one of the sweetest humans I’ve met, but has this dark side to him, fuelled by religion. His extremism is as dangerous in some ways, (not all ways, of course) as extremists from other religions.
To kill, in any religion, is a sin, it is as simple as that, no matter how people may try to twist or reword the Bible or the Karan or any other religious book, and take words out of context, to suit personal fanatical views.
Financial gain should never be allowed either. In England, the Church of England are the largest land owners in the country, yet they invest their profits in companies that make loans to desperate people, with extortionate interest rates. Why not invest it back into the community? The Vatican of course is another incredibly wealthy institution.
Personal beliefs should never be imposed on others; other faiths and views should be respected, surely? I have learnt never to start a conversation about religion, or politics! They are the two no goes!
Here in Middle Tennessee you can’t buy wine or liquor on a Sunday. A new bill is being passed that allows supermarkets to sell wine; they already sell beer, but that’s it.
Now the Jesus I believe in liked wine, was always drinking it. The Jesus I believe in though didn’t like churches, called them ‘a den of thieves’, (which I used in the Christmas Jackson Woods story). That’s why He spoke on hillsides and beaches and other open spaces.
Going back to the church in the commercial last night, there is simply no excuse for restaurants in churches, or free wifi. Go to church to pray, go to talk with God, but that’s it – the profit is paying for a private helicopter (which this pastor has), and a huge mansion (which this pastor has). He found that not only was God his possible way out of prison early, but he discovered that God means money to many people, makes money for so many. This pastor is now making millions, far more than if he had kept to his life or murder and crime.
The irony though is that his church is packed every Sunday, as indeed many are here. There is a weekly television broadcast of the services. There are church sections in the local papers where churches advertise but in many cases I feel their faith is being abused. History shows many so-called men (and women) of God end up in prison for abusing their positions, either financially or sexually, or both!
I think they have lost sight of the faith, blinded by greed and the green dollar signs.
When I was looking to join a royalty collection company I went to PRS offices in London. They are lovely, very lavish, with original paintings, sculptures, all paid for by songwriters. I went then to the ASCAP offices and they were in a small, working suite of offices. I joined them. Maybe it should be that way with churches. There is a new church that has just opened down the road. They have to have the sheriff’s department at their services to organise the traffic there are so many people.
I remember going to church, in Cardiff, the Albany Road Baptist church. It was always crowded, which was nice, and I went to Sunday school, as did my kids. Learning the teachings of any faith is wonderful and I can understand and respect why so many people go to church but there are some people who will seek to abuse these people’s trust, just like in any industry = look at the entertainment industry! I saw yesterday another new church being opened, this one called The Music City Baptist Church!
Today is Good Friday, so this seems pretty apt. Someone doesn’t have to go to church to be a good Christian, far from it. To me, Christianity is more a way of life, helping and loving each other, just being kind – do unto others …..
There does also seem to be a belief here that someone can sin and just go to church the next Sunday and God will forgive them, so it’s okay that they killed someone. It is not okay, but they can make serious amends. If you’re in prison and you find your cellmate is Jesus, great, but don’t use that to make money and abuse people’s need to believe in something, or someone.
Finally, remember Matthew 19:24 “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Happy Easter or Passover.
After years of talking and dreaming about it, moving on to the land is fast becoming a reality – and it’s scary to say the least.
It was actually ten years ago when I bought the land and waiting for the time to be right has taken this long.
Now though, the process has well and truly started. It’s now all about obtaining permits and surveying and already we have come across a few things we were unaware of but hopefully with the right advice everything will be okay. Planning exactly where to place the house has been fun but at the same time there is always the thought that once it is placed that’s it, so you really only get one shot, so it had better be right. The problem is that with six acres you are spoilt for choice, but the main factor has been the sun; where it rises and where it sets.
The house site has now more or less been decided now and flagged. The views from the front look out on fields, whilst the back looks down towards where the lake is going to be, and the woods. Deer come out most nights, and from the many bones we’ve found, there’s obviously a coyote or two who enjoy the deer, turkey buzzards finishing their left overs.
On the ‘things to do’ list are checking out the electric, which is already at the land, and hopefully we can use an existing pole so we should only need one smaller pole by the house.
Water is also already at the land but it will be getting it to the house that might be hard, but they deal with this everyday so I’m sure it will be okay, and there’s a house further away from the road already so they might be able to take the source from there.
The big cost is the septic tank, no city sewage out here. The land has to be perked, which it was ten years ago but just has to be checked again, but that should be straightforward, fingers crossed. Researching different septic systems is fun – not!
There used to be no signal for the cell phones on the land but now with a new service provider there is a great signal. I’ve already checked and our current internet, landline and TV provider does cover out here so that’s good.
We’ve been checking out sheds and outbuildings. On the covered porch we’re planning on having a jukebox and an old coke chest cooler. We’ve been looking at containers and coincidentally on a show last night on one of the DIY channels they made a very cool bar from a 20 foot shipping container, so that’s what we’re going to do, down by the lake.
I also in my head placed the studio yesterday too, on the small hill that is on the land, and close enough to the house, but at the same time, far enough away. There’s a deck in front of the studio so that will be another place to sit and watch the sun go down, will a little moonshine or bourbon or wine or …….. I call it the moonshine deck anyhow.
I just hate it when things are out of my control, guess I’m a control freak. It’s just that that way you can make sure everything is right – if you want a job done properly, right? But some obvious things are out of my control such as the soil testing, which due to the bad weather, with the snow and ice, and now rain, the surveyor is three weeks behind, but he lives right by the land so he has said he will hopefully do the test before then on his way home if he finishes early one night.
So, I’m taking a deep breath, not panicking, enjoying it, hopefully led by the very small light that seems to be at the end of a very long tunnel.
Clearing the driveway.
What is it about sounds and noises that can conjure up feelings, emotions and memories. Songs are an obvious example – they remind us of a time in our lives, or people, but what about freight train horns, or a ship’s fog horn? They represent the gypsy in many of us, journeys, adventures even.
I bought my first house when I was eighteen, and it had a wonderful skylight and if you stood on a chair you could see docks down at Cardiff Bay, but netter still, on a foggy night, you could here the ship’s horns, as they left or arrived at, the docks. My grandfather was dock master there during the Second World War and my other grandfather was a Captain in the Swedish Merchant Navy, so perhaps my wanderlust was, and is, unavoidable.
The sound of a freight train’s horn was apparently Johnny Cash’s favorite sound, and is one of mine. I love the stories of the men, hobos, who ride the train across the country. It seems romantic but in reality it is a hard and brutal life, as they fight to survive, moving from area to area in the hope of jobs. This was one of the reason I called the first album, Country Tales and Hobo Trails. I see the trains leave Nashville, some seem to go on for ever, they have so many carriages.
It’s the same with truck drivers; I pass them on the interstate and wonder where they are heading for? Sleeping in their cabs most nights, driving along the highways of this wonderful country.
Planes just don’t seem to have the same romance do they? They are more functional and as much as I don’t mind flying at all, I never look forward to a twelve hour flight, but with trains or trucks, ships or even cars. I’ve done a number of ‘road trips’, here in the States, east to West, (Fort Lauderdale to LA); south to north (Florida to Canada), and in Europe (Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and French, all in one go, and numerous trips from Wales to the south of France).
Another favorite sound for me, and many others, is the sound of rain on an old tin roof, very Southern. At the back of my bedroom there’s an old tin shed and the sound of the rain on there is wonderful. It’s actually very relaxing, and it’s free! Thank you, Mother Nature.
Here are some links:
link to train horns – http://youtu.be/dZ5O4TRp9dk
link to sound of rain – http://youtu.be/WymXdRV4mNI ten hours long!
link to country tales – http://youtu.be/5r0JM4j4oiE
They start so early here. It’s a shock to the system, getting up and out by 7 or so. This morning drove to Hartsville for the septic permit, and then breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Lebanon, where their headquarters are based.
The warmest day in a while, going to be in the 60’s later, and then – snow tomorrow! Crazy weather. Cathy told me a saying – Mother Nature is having hot flushes!
Traffic is heavy early on. More is made of each day here, with the early starts. This also explains why ‘lunch’ starts at 11:30/12:00 for many people. Four o’clock is drive home time and best to be avoided if possible.
The local television and radio coverage of the traffic is excellent and can save you being stuck in a jam for hours. There was obviously an accident on the i40 this morning going into Nashville, traffic at a standstill but luckily we were going the other way.
Listening to the radio there are currently two tracks that possible indicate a way ahead for country music – Sam Hunt’s ‘Take Your Time’ and Chase Rice’s ‘Ride’. I’m sure these will annoy purists, both having such an R & B feel, but country music has to move forward. I personally love both tracks, a lot.
Here are the links if you’re interested.
Sam Hunt – http://youtu.be/Evqvefc4fqM
Chase Rice – http://youtu.be/hfwQyAalZLU