Guest Post by Joshua Powell: Black Lodge (water)
My mom’s family lived in a tiny hamlet called Davis, in West Virginia. My brother and I grew up in Florida, and one year when I was very young my folks decided to truck us up there for Christmas so the family could be together and my brother and I could see snow. We were literally en route when we got the news that my Pawpaw had died that day of a heart attack.
I didn’t know the man very well, and have very few memories of him. The main memories I have of Leonard are of him sitting in a rocking chair and singing old country songs, my favorite being ‘Kaw-Liga’ by Hank Williams.
Forgiving your hippie daughters
(there are pictures of you in uniform)
Reciting components of engine parts
Or singing ‘Kaw-Liga’ on the front porch
My mom found an old cassette she’d made of Pawpaw singing those songs, and I sampled a clip of him singing about the coal mines, and about death and burial, and about what might come after. It struck me as the most brilliant launch point for ‘Black Lodge (water)’ and for the whole record. Especially because he sang it across so many years ago in exactly the same key I’d written this song in.
I hope when I’m gone and the ages shall roll,
My body will blacken and turn into coal.
Then I’ll look from the door of my heavenly home,
And pity the miner a-diggin’ my bones.
— ‘Dark as a Dungeon’ by Merle Travis
I used ‘Black Lodge (water)’ as a psychic space to delve into the specifics of the spotted memories I could conjure of Davis and my mom’s family. Unlike a lot of my other work, which I steep in cross-referenced annotations and nuanced doublespeak, every name, place, and detail in this story is exactly how I recall it, unedited by anything but the cloudiness and re-interpretation of my hazy child memories. Mom corrected me on a detail or two, but these were the ways I remember it:
An uncle mowing the lawn. My Granny saying ‘shit’ and my sheltered brother and I snickering behind our hands. A mentally ill family member telling me of the visions she’d had of God, and the devil, driving by in a car or manifesting in her kitchen.
And Robert’s mowed the lawn
‘Like shit he did,’ says Dora in a rage…
My cousin tells me how she saw Jesus
And now how he won’t leave her alone…
‘Black Lodge (water)’ is not a eulogy, but an examination of a first brush with death and the lacunae in our understanding – especially as those impressions strike a child’s mind – a la the factual tone for the mythical subject in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, which was a seminal work in my germination as a reader and writer.
Last bit: there’s a waterfall there outside of Davis with a park we’d often hike. There’s a lodge on the premise that always felt grandiose and otherworldly to me as a kid, poised on the lip of mountains like we didn’t have in Florida, where I recall foggy clouds and bald eagles. It was a set piece in the entire recollection, and it’s called Blackwater Lodge. As an admitted David Lynch acolyte, I was delighted that with a little syntactical rearranging, I could reference the hotel of my childhood memory and give a grateful nod (one of a couple on the LP if you look) to one of my bizarro artistic fathers.
‘Black Lodge (water)’ has been our show opener since we dropped the record. It doesn’t feel like it’s become a crowd favorite the way that ‘Spirit of the Trailer Park’ or ‘Bliss Is a Flak Jacket’ have become, but it’s one of my favorite cuts.
‘Black Lodge (water)’ appears on Joshua Powell’s latest album, PSYCHO/TROPIC. Joshua’s music is available on Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify. And be sure to follow Joshua Powell on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.