Saturday, December 11, 2021

If We Make It Through December (TOTR 404)


a vinyl only holiday edition, aired originally on WTTU 88.5 FM 
on Saturday, December 11, 2021

listen to the archive here:

Merle Haggard - If We Make It Through December

from Goin Home For Christmas - 1984

Carpenters - I’ll Be Home For Christmas

from Christmas Portrait - 1978

Air Supply - O Come All Ye Faithful 

from The Christmas Album -1987

John Fahey - Carol of the Bells

from Christmas with John Fahey Vol II - 1975

John Denver & the Muppets - She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain

from Rocky Mountain Holiday - 1983

Jody Emerson & Wild Bill Emerson - Happy Birthday Jesus

from Christmas in the Mountains - 1978

Burl Ives - Jesus Anatonia 

Burl Ives - The Seven Joys of Mary

from Twelve Days of Christmas- 1967

Johnny Cash - We Are The Shepherds

from The Christmas Spirit - 1963

The Monks of Weston Priory - Shepherds & Kings

from Winter’s Coming Home - 1975

Soldan High School Concert Choir - God Rest You Merry Gentleman 

Jennings Senior High School Dickens Carolers - Sing A Round For Christmas

from A Saint Louis Christmas - 1974

Revelation Philharmonic Orchestra & the One Experience Choir - Hallelujah

from The New Messiah - 1972

The New Christy Minstrels - Beautiful City 

from Merry Christmas - 1967

Joe Wise - I Wonder As I Wander

from He Has Come: Songs of Christmas - 1977

Stephen Rose, Bill Horwitz, & Friends - A Stranger Named Peace 

from A Stranger Named Peace - 1978

Peter Paul & Mary - Light One Candle

from A Holiday Celebration with the New York Choral Society - 1988

Odetta - Shout for Joy

Odetta - Children Go Where I Send Thee

from Christmas Spirituals - 1960

Lornetta Taylor & the Pleasant Green Choir - Flee Into Egypt Land

from Flee Into Egypt Land

Mahalia Jackson - Go Tell It On The Mountain 

from Christmas Songs - undated German release

The Staple Singers - The Last Month of the Year

The Staple Singers - The Virgin Mary Had One Son

The Staple Singers - No Room at the Inn

The Staple Singers - There Was A Star

The Twenty-Fifth Day of December - 1962

The Edwin Hawkins Singers – Blowin in the Wind

The Edwin Hawkins Singers – Silent Night 

from Peace Is "Blowin' In The Wind" - 1969

Raymond Rasberry Singers - Oh Happy Day

from The Gospel At Christmas with Shirley Caesar et al - undated

Josh Garrels - Gloria

Josh Garrels - Hosanna 

from The Light Came Down - 2016

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band - The Little Drummer Boy 

from A Very Special Christmas - 1987 

Beta Radio -  The Song The Season Brings 

from the Song The Season Brings - 2015

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Songs for our Ancestors (TOTR 403)


Halloween/All Saints show 2021 - aired on 10/30/21

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) Don Everly (1937-2021) Anne Feeney (1951-2021) Nanci Griffith (1953-2021)

Steve Miller Band - Song For Our Ancestors

Lawrence Ferlinghetti - The World Is A Beautiful Place

George Harrison - All Things Must Pass 

The Everly Brothers - Bye Bye Love

Anne Feeney - Emma Goldman

Nanci Griffith - Not My Way Home

Dolly Parton - Silver Dagger

Emmylou Harris - Still Water 

Loreena McKennitt - All Souls Night

The Secret Sisters & Brandi Carlile - Water Witch

Stevie Nicks - Sorcerer

Pentangle - I Saw an Angel

Norma Tanega - You're Dead

Buffy Sainte-Marie - God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot

Dead Can Dance - The Wind That Shakes the Barley 

Wardruna - Helvegen

Heilung - Trause 

Lankum - Cold Old Fire 

The Bridge City Sinners - Ashes 

Tejon Street Corner Thieves - Wayfaring Stranger

Sam Lee - Lay This Body Down 

Sweet Honey In The Rock - Breaths

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression

[Originally aired on WTTU 88.5 FM on Saturday, October, 30, 2021. The audio archive is here:

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Is There A Ghost (TOTR 402)


Son House - Death Letter

The White Stripes - Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground

Band of Horses - Is There A Ghost

J. Tillman - Your Mother's Ghost

The Cave Singers - Dancing On Our Graves

Delta Rae - Dance in the Graveyards

Dawes - Telescope

Justin Townes Earle - Appalachian Nightmare

Amanda Shires -Deep Dark Below

Amy Ray & Justin Vernon - Let the Spirit

Jill Andrews - Tell That Devil

Gillian Welch - The Devil Had A Hold Of Me

Shovels & Rope - The Devil Is All Around

The Chieftains & Mick Jagger - The Long Black Veil 

Iron & Wine - Free Until They Cut Me Down

The Builders &  The Butchers - Let the Wind Carry Me Home

Jason Isbell - Children of Children

Jason Isbell &  the 400 Unit - Only Children

My Morning Jacket - Golden

My Morning Jacket - The Way That He Sings

Band of Horses - The Funeral

Jerry Garcia - The Wheel

Jack White - Wayfaring Stranger


[Originally aired on WTTU 88.5 FM on Saturday, October, 23, 2021. The audio archive is here:

Friday, October 15, 2021

When It Breaks (TOTR 401)

Willi Carlisle - What the Rocks Don't Know  
Aaron Ross & Neal Morgan - Speak The Truth                              
The Avett Brothers - Long Story Short                                   
Jason Isbell - Relatively Easy 
Brandi Carlile - Broken Horses
Possessed by Paul James - When It Breaks
Jamestown Revival - This Too Shall Pass
Deer Tick - Rough Around the Edges
Josh Ritter - Ground Don't Want Me
Deer Tick - Too Sensitive for This World
Phil Cook - Steampowered Blues
Steve Earle - Dublin Blues
Hiss Golden Messenger - I Need a Teacher
Shovels & Rope w/ Shakey Graves - Unknown Legend
Blaze Foley & Ben Dickey - Clay Pigeons
Hayes Carll - Jesus and Elvis
Dawes - Didn't Fix Me
Brandi Carlile - Every Time I Hear That Song
Gibson Brothers - Everybody Hurts
U2 - Some Days Are Better Than Others
TV On The Radio - Wash The Day
Possessed by Paul James - We Welcome You Hom

image - Broken Reflection by Ryan McGilchrist (2007)

audio archive from the live broadcast on 10/15/2021 on WTTU:

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Come Along (TOTR 400)


The 400th episode of Teacher On The Radio, since 9/10/2007. Roger Miller - Oo-De-Lally (From Robin Hood)

jeremy messersmith - Everything Is Magical

Love - Everybody's Gotta Live

Cosmo Sheldrake - Come Along

Dick Gaughan - Revolution

Shawn James - The Thief and the Moon

Parsonsfield - Weeds or Wildflowers

The Growlers - Tell It How It Is

Merry Hell - Human Communion

Grace Petrie,Liam Jordan,Paula Wichall, & Ben Greenland -

            If There's a Fire in Your Heart

Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith - What You Do with What You've Got 

Danny Schmidt - This Too Shall Pass

Chris Remo - This Is the Time (We Have Prepared For)

Dan Bern - Never to Be Forgotten Kinda Year

The Mountain Goats - This Year

Barton Carroll - Those Days Are Gone, and My Heart Is Breaking

Candle Kid - Ring

Sleeping At Last - You Are Enough

Elizabeth & the Catapult - More Than Enough

jeremy messersmith - We All Do Better When We All Do Better

Blake Rouse - Big Rock Candy Mountain

My Morning Jacket - Wonderful (The Way I Feel)

Pistol Pete & Popgun Paul - all along

Khrysso Heart LeFey- Himmel und Erde

Rev. Yolanda - I Love Myself

Casey Neill Trio - Araby

Jason Isbell - Maybe It’s Time

The California Honeydrops - Ripple

Playing For Change - Imagine You can listen to the archived recording here: Thanks for the 400th episode shout-outs from:

Mark Creter

Ted Pelton

Peter Werbe

Jeannie Smith

Casey Neill
Rev. Yolanda 

Khrysso Heart LeFey

& Rick Quinn -- only aired on the live episode

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Something for Everyone (TOTR 399)


[photo of 404 storefront by Ace Morgan; photo of your DJ hippypunk fannypack dancing by Jeff Rice]

Chumbawamba - Never Do What You Are Told

MDC - Something for Everyone

False Prophets - Invisible People

Operation Ivy - Room Without A Window

Green Day - I Was There

Pansy Division - Fem in a Black Leather Jacket

Bikini Kill - Rebel Girl

Lungfish - Creation Story

Screeching Weasel - I Can See Clearly Now

¡Tchkung! - Gone to Croatan

Crash Worship -Dischordia

Short Dogs Grow - Desert Rain

Laughing Hyenas - Crawl

The Gories - Detroit Breakdown

The Orange Roughies - Eyepatch

Majesty Crush - If Jfa Were Still Together

Bongwater - There You Go

King Missile - How to Remember Your Dreams

Maggie Estep- Welcome To The Monkeyhouse

The Layabouts - Monkey Do 

The Layabouts - Ballad of Donna Lewis

Hakim Bey - Chaos

Sunfrog - Waiting For Richard

Roger Manning - Real Estate Blues

Lenny Pops - Talking Proletarian Blues 

Utah Phillips - I've Got to Know

Casey Neill - Riffraff

Chumbawamba - Happiness is Just a Chant Away

Show aired on Saturday 9-25. Listen to the audio archive here:

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Go (TOTR 398)


Jónsi - Go Do

Indigo Girls - Go

The Felice Brothers - To-Do List

Frank Turner - Haven't Been Doing So Well

American Aquarium - The World Is On Fire

Shovels & Rope - C'mon Utah!

Willis Alan Ramsey - Northeast Texas Women

Keb' Mo' with Old Crow Medicine Show-The Medicine Man

Allison Russell - Little Rebirth

Brittany Howard - 13th Century Metal (Michael Kiwanuka & St Francis Hotel remix)

Amy Ray - Tear It Down

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit with John Paul White - Driver 8

My Morning Jacket - Love Love Love

Wilco - Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Dr. Dog - Buzzing in the Light

Dawes - Most People

Johnnyswim with Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - Ring the Bells

My Morning Jacket - Run It

Lord Huron - Ends of the Earth

American Aquarium - One Day At A Time

Molly Tuttle - Standing On The Moon

Shinyribs - Brokedown Palace

John Prine - That's the Way That the World Goes Round - Live Listen to an audio archive of this show on Soundcloud: Stream Go - TOTR 398 by Teacher On The Radio | Listen online for free on SoundCloud

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Regularly Scheduled Programming (TOTR 397)

Brandi Carlile - Right on Time

My Morning Jacket - Regularly Scheduled Programming

Utah Phillips - The Two Bums - Live / 1984

Fred Holstein - Banks Of Marbles - Live / 1984

Billy Bragg - Pass It On

The Dead Tongues - Pawnshop Dollar Bills

The Artisanals - Way Up

Big Red Machine - Phoenix (feat. Fleet Foxes & Anaïs Mitchell)

Holy Locust - Prophets Hang

The Goddamn Gallows - It's Gonna Be Ok (no, It's Not)

Pagan Holiday - Hallelujah

The Trusty Snakes - Love and Dopamine

Moon Bandits - Community Love Song

Margo Price - Four Years of Chances

Khruangbin - White Gloves

Band of Horses - In A Drawer

Dr. Dog - Here Comes the Hotstepper

Wilco - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Lord Huron - Long Lost

American Aquarium - The Long Haul

Son Volt - Like You

The Killers - Cody

December  - Apostles and prophets   

My Morning Jacket - Steam Engine

Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Unforgettable Fire (TOTR 396)


[photo - the DJ with "Vermin Supreme," summer 2021, their first time together in 25 years!]
show aired live on WTTU 88.5fm on Saturday, August 7, 2021

U2- The Unforgettable Fire
The Polyphonic Spree - Light & Day/ Reach for the Sun
The Collection - Loud
The Tillers - The Road Neverending
The Tillers - Riverboat Dishwashing Song
Miss Tess - These Blues
Peter Rowan - Dharma Blues
Sarah Jarosz - I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Brandi Carlile - The Eye
The National - Heavenfaced
CSNY- Woodstock
The Band - This Wheel’s On Fire 
Jefferson Airplane - Live at Woodstock
Vermin Supreme - I Am A Meme
Collective Vision - Up To You & Me
Phil Lesh & Friends (featuring Dawes & Nicki Bluhm) - Scarlet Begonias
Phil Lesh & Friends (featuring Dawes & Nicki Bluhm) - Sugaree
Consolidated - The ol’ Mass Extinction Blues
Danny Wilde - The Unforgettable Fire

Monday, April 19, 2021

Tennessee Tech Professors Speak Out -- Regarding University Discipline Against Them For Antiracist Activism

[Images: Gruber and Smith on Tennessee Tech video surveillance. Source: Tennessee Tech police report.]

On Thursday, April 15, two tenured Tennessee Tech faculty members--Julia Gruber (associate professor, German) and Andrew Smith (senior instructor, English and Religious Studies), with more than 30 years of university service between them--received notification that they were subject to disciplinary actions from the university for what they believe is protected free speech activity: the creation, printing, and distribution of a leaflet denouncing a racist colleague, and local elected GOP official, and the members of the organization he leads, the campus chapter of the national hate group, Turning Point USA (TPUSA). 

 According to the official memorandums from Human Resources interim associate Vice President Greg Holt and the Vice President for Planning and Finance Claire Stinson (Holt’s supervisor), the university alleges that Gruber and Smith created and distributed the flyer with the intent “to harass, intimidate, and threaten not only Complainant but other faculty, staff, and students whose views and opinions” are “contrary” to theirs. Both Gruber and Smith decry such deceitful characterization, since calling out racism is precisely intended to curtail the culture of harassment and intimidation they believe that racists have created at Tennessee Tech, through groups like TPUSA and others. 

 In his official response to these memorandums, Nashville employment attorney Robb Bigelow, who represents Gruber and Smith, disputed the facts and legality of the University’s case against his clients. To begin his response, Bigelow writes, “A number of reasons exist as to why this decision should be reconsidered and that the matter against my clients should be dropped.” Specifically, Bigelow explains how Tech's "Investigation Memorandum" regarding Professors Gruber and Smith fails to even mention (let alone fully address) the First Amendment and how it ignores or misinterprets many facts and Tennessee Tech's own policies. 

 To summarize, Bigelow writes in his conclusion: “Professors Smith and Gruber openly welcome a healthy debate regarding Turning Point USA, its campus leader, and its members. They invite Professor Donadio and all members of Turning Point USA to denounce racism and institutional racism. They welcome a marketplace of ideas where members of Turning Point USA try to prove them wrong and perhaps even challenge the Professors about their own beliefs. But they must not be punished for espousing those protected beliefs in the first place.” 

 As popular and award-winning faculty, Gruber and Smith have always put their students first and view their social justice work as integral to the mission of any university: the pursuit of truth and contribution to the common good. Just as their accuser is an adviser of conservative student activists, between Gruber and Smith they advise or co-advise the Tennessee Tech chapters of: Lambda Gay-Straight Alliance, NAACP, College Democrats, Presbyterian Student Association, and Student Environmental Action Coalition. Does TPUSA afford the students of these organizations with the same free speech rights that they seek for themselves? 

 To be clear, Smith and Gruber called out a colleague’s documented racism on a flier, a traditional and protected free speech activity. Their accuser went to the campus police to get Smith and Gruber fired. Which action is in fact more threatening? And why does Tennessee Tech appear to have taken up the cause of TPUSA in this case? As tragic as it would be for these admired academics to lose their jobs at Tech for hanging a flier, their activism is not about them or their careers. Rather, Gruber and Smith are motivated by deeply held values on behalf of an inclusive, antiracist vision for Tennessee Tech and the Cookeville community. 

 Both professors have long histories of advocating for other faculty members through organizations such as the United Campus Workers, a local union within the Communication Workers of America, and the American Association of University Professors, the century-old organization responsible for setting the national standards for academic freedom and tenure. Smith is also a member of the historic One Big Union, the International Workers of the World. Both teachers have contributed greatly to campus culture through bringing countless guest speakers, participating in community service work, and traveling with students around the world to learn about diversity. 

Both are grassroots Cookeville activists involved in causes such as (but not limited to) Black Lives Matter, the Tennessee Indigenous Coalition, the NAACP, and the Cookeville Mutual Aid Collective, which serves the local unhoused and incarcerated communities. In addition to all this, they are both prolific and creative scholars, active in a variety of interdisciplinary areas, and they present regularly at national and international conferences. 

 In 2015, Smith with other colleagues brought students to the 50th Anniversary Bridge Crossing in Selma, Alabama, and then in April 2018, a similar group traveled to Memphis to commemorate the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. In addition to his work at Tech, Smith is a credentialed theologian from Vanderbilt Divinity School and local preacher, having served in or taught at congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ. He currently co-moderates a podcast and Facebook page for Presbyterian Voices for Justice. 

Today, Gruber’s most recent research project, the revolutionary power of angry women, is inspired by the radical rudeness of Ugandan scholar and activist Stella Nyanzi. For a forthcoming essay collection, Gruber has compiled abstracts on examples of female anger in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and she is convening a seminar that will focus on the particular racism black women face when they express rage. 

For this work, Tech awarded her a non-instructional grant, which will free her up to work on what matters most to her: Being a better ally, developing her anti-racist agenda, and highlighting the work of Black and Brown colleagues and artists. Julia Gruber and Andrew Smith believe that abolishing white supremacy is a much higher calling, bigger than them or their careers, bigger than Cookeville or Tennessee Tech. 

 The press and public are invited to a live, online conversation and press conference featuring Julia Gruber and Andrew Smith on Monday, April 19, at 7:00pm CST. The conversation will be hosted by New York-based professor, actor, and blogger Lee Papa, better known to his online readers as the Rude Pundit. Other local Cookeville activists will join the call. 

 This event will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube. 

Additional Background

 On Thursday, February 4, the Putnam County School Board affirmed that they will allow a racist slur to remain the mascot for a local middle school. (We do not say the slur because it is racist; it was the former name of the Washington, DC Football Team in the NFL.)

 Members of the Tennessee Indigenous Coalition were in attendance at the meeting, as members of that group are indigenous Americans and parents of children in the Putnam County system. Critics of the mascot have organized, written letters, and attended the school board meetings because they wish to see the racist mascot removed. 

When the motion to form a committee to study the mascot situation failed to get a second, it was noticed that a citizen audibly cheered and celebrated the mascot decision. This individual was Andrew “AJ” Donadio: a Putnam County Commissioner, Tech professor, County GOP officer, member of the Tennessee Freedom Force “patriot” group, and recently volunteered to be the official faculty adviser to the campus chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a far-right national organization with ties to white supremacists (as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and others) and the January 6 attack on America. For more on TPUSA’s racism please see: 

 In addition to Donadio’s outspoken support for the racist mascot, he also condemned the student athletes at East Tennessee State University for expressing their free speech, by kneeling before a basketball game during Black History Month. In a post on his public County Commissioner page, Donadio supports the lawmakers seeking to repress these athletes’ rights to peaceful protest.
Donadio wrote: “Most of these athletes receive scholarships and are representatives of the school and therefore the state. Part of the contract for that scholarship should be that they show due respect for this nation, our military, and our police.”

 On Friday, February 5, Andrew Smith made a flier calling out what he perceived as the racist aspects of this professor and the TPUSA organization. On the early evening of Friday, February 5, and the morning of Saturday, February 6, Smith and Gruber posted or left on tables, copies of this flier, which was intended as a provocative challenge to TPUSA’s own rhetoric.

This flier is protected speech by the First Amendment, Tennessee Tech Policy 007, and the Tennessee Campus Free Speech Act. On February 9, Donadio filed a complaint with Tech Human Resources against Gruber and Smith, whose identity he was able to ascertain by consulting witnesses and studying the university surveillance footage, provided for him by Tech officials.

On February 24, the flier-posting professors received a memorandum from interim Human Resources Associate Vice President Greg Holt, citing multiple Tech policies, under which the professors were being investigated. Several weeks into the investigation, Gruber and Smith were notified by Holt of an additional complaint filed against them by the student leaders of the TPUSA chapter. The professors maintain this investigation and the subsequent disciplinary memorandum referenced above are without merit.

In essence, Donadio and now Tech are engaged in patent violations of Tech’s own policies and of the Tennessee Campus Free Speech Act. The flier was extramural free speech protected by Tech policy, Tennessee State Law, and the First Amendment. The investigation itself and subsequent disciplinary memorandum appear to intimidate, threaten, and harass Smith and Gruber from calling out the hate-group activities of their colleague from Turning Point USA.

 During the more than 50 days from receiving the initial memorandum from Tech until the recent disciplinary memorandum, Andrew Donadio went on a media tour, during the investigation phase of his allegations against Gruber and Smith, who on the other hand, have waited until after the investigation to go public with their concerns. Donadio contacted local and regional radio, print, and online media.
A sensationally vivid story on the Tennessee Star far-right website, paints Gruber and Smith in a particularly negative light. Additionally, supporters of Donadio have stirred up anger toward Gruber and Smith on their personal Facebook pages, describing them in such inflammatory terms as terrorists, fascists, bullies, and “psychotic deranged goons.”

 Since beginning to share their story, Gruber and Smith have received an outpouring of support, especially from their students, former students, fellow activist colleagues, and concerned community members. Interviews and additional official internal documentation are available upon request.

[images: Andrew Smith and Julia Gruber involved in local grassroots protest. Also picture: Gruber's spouse and retired Tech faculty Jon Jonakin.]

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Summer On Fire (TOTR 395)

in honor of the new Peter Werbe book Summer On Fire: A Detroit Novel
for more info visit -

MC5 - Kick Out The Jams
Frank Zappa - Plastic People
Grateful Dead - Morning Dew
Tim Buckley - Get On Top
Cream - Strange Brew
Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit
Big Brother & the Holding Company - Piece of My Heart
John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillen
Ravi Shankar - Raga
Charles Mingus - Moanin’
Jimi Hendrix - If 6 Was 9
Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Aretha Franklin - Respect
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Fire 
The Doors - Light My Fire
The Chambers Brothers - Time Has Come Today
Howlin’ Wolf - Back Door Man
Procol Harum - White Shade Of Pale
Canned Heat - On The Road Again
The Byrds - Eight Miles High
Steve Miller Band - Living In The USA
The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog
Sun Ra - Saturn 

show dedicated to Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Going Back to [Our] Roots (TOTR 394)


An African-Americana Mix for Black History Month 2021

The Blind Boys Of Alabama - Run on for a Long Time
Richie Havens - Going Back to My Roots
Ray Charles - Hey, Good Lookin'
Etta James - Almost Persuaded
The Staple Singers - Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Miko Marks & The Resurrectors - Ancestors
Amythyst Kiah - Black Myself
Ben Harper - Black Beauty
Jake Blount - Brown Skin Baby
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?
Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi - Wayfaring Stranger 
Valerie June - Rain Dance
Rissi Palmer - Best Day Ever
Leyla McCalla - Oh My Love
The War and Treaty - Take Me In
Yola - Ride Out In The Country
Amythyst Kiah - Doomed to Roam
Kamara Thomas & the Ghost Gamblers - You Wreck Me
Ondara - Days Of Insanity
Tré Burt - Last Hurrah
Julian Taylor - Love Enough
Shemekia Copeland - Ain't Got Time For Hate
Odetta - He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo' - Waiting On The World To Change
Keb' Mo'- This Is My Home

Incredibly grateful to author & fellow-traveler Mark Kemp for his collaboration on this edition of Teacher On The Radio.

Check out my conversation with Mark Kemp on Ordinary Takes here:

Check out his Black Americana playlist “Another Country” here:

I cannot recommend Mark’s book Dixie Lullaby enough, check it out here:

Listen to these songs:

Friday, February 19, 2021

Psychedelic Sobriety: A Wharf Rat's Journey Back To The Dead Zone



Psychedelic Sobriety: A Wharf Rat's Journey Back To The Dead Zone

Andrew Smith, Tennessee Tech, presented at the Southwest Southwest Pop Culture Association, Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus, 19 February 2020, Albuquerque, New Mexico

For my second one [Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus], I decided to present and even inaugurate the festivities. 

It is such an honor to be here. I met Sarah last year, my co-presenter [for this session], and we both were happy to know there were other religious studies nerds in the caucus. Religion only slightly overlaps with my topic for today.

Most of you are familiar with the Wharf Rat movement, but maybe, have never heard a paper on it. As far as I can gather, there maybe has never been a paper of this kind on the Wharf Rats, although there have been a handful of articles and essays.

The title of my talk is “Psychedelic Sobriety: A Wharf Rat's Journey Back To The Dead Zone.” That actually will also factor into [the rest of] the talk, because it will show you how finding the Wharf Rats helped me rediscover the music and mythology of the Grateful Dead.

But I am going to start the way we do in my 12-step tradition—and just, if I don’t say it elsewhere in the talk, the Wharf Rats are not a 12-step organization, though there is a lot of overlap therein.

So I will say, “my name is Andrew, and I am a Wharf Rat.” [audience: “Hello Andrew.” Andrew: “Thank you. I love that.”] If I were at a meeting back home, I might say that I am an alcoholic, but I also qualify for other anonymous groups. My disease is me, and my disease is more, more, more, more, more. 

Just so you know my chronological credential, I was born in 1967. I believe that my conception may have occurred on the day of the “Human Be-In,” but I was conceived in Chicago, not San Francisco. But I was born in October 1967, and I share a [birth]day, October 9th, with John Lennon [he was 1940] and Gandhi. It is a special day. It [I] was [born] the day Che Guevera died. 

If you Google the Wharf Rats, you learn the basic arc of our history: Deadheads got clean and sober in the early 1980s, yet somehow managed to stay on tour, in part, by providing support at shows. 

I learned the phrase—“I am clean and sober music fan” at Bonnaroo in 2009—when I was barely sober, and I will tell you a little bit more about that story [here in a moment] in the talk.

[Here is a screen shot of a Wharf Rat newsletter from 2013. I am going to read you the Wharf Rat statement of purpose in case you have never heard it before.] “The Wharf Rats are a group of concert-goers who have chosen to live drug and alcohol free. Our primary purpose at shows is to make ourselves available to anyone who feels we may have something they want. We don’t tell others how to attend their show. 

We offer clean and sober support, strength, fellowship, and hope. We are not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous nor any other twelve-step group. We are a group of friends sharing a common bond, providing support, information, and some traction in an otherwise slippery environment. Look for the yellow balloons, signs, and the Wharf Rat information table.” 

So I meant to bring a yellow balloon. Didn’t bring that. But like all Deadheads, Wharf Rats are really into their swag and their merch. So I do have a bumper sticker: “You Don’t Need Dope To Dance.” I am wearing a Wharf Rat t-shirt, and I brought another one with me just to show: the movement has lots of swag. I have one other show-and-tell I will share [with y’all] in just a moment.

I sort of have a circuitous route to the Wharf Rats and to the Grateful Dead, so you are going to get to hear a little bit of my story, and this presentation is by necessity a bit autobiographical.

But you do know that the name Wharf Rats has a narrative history in the song “Wharf Rat.” And the line in the song “My name is August West” reminds us of our identification at meetings, and the saying “I’ll get a new start, live the life that I should” has become a motto for the Wharf Rat movement.

[Shows picture.] This is me at 15 in Germany, getting my first drunk. At a wine tasting. Nobody told me you sip and spit; nobody told me you only have half the glass. So I bottomed all six of those glasses. My hosts in Germany thought it was really cute to get the American drunk. 

That was my first sign that I have what some in recovery call an allergy to alcohol. That was in my jock days, but a few years later, I was a full-blown hippypunk, that’s where the story will pick up.

Back in the 1980s, I only dabbled in the Grateful Dead as a scraggly vegan “hippypunk” who first loved the bands U2 and the R.E.M. before getting high, and once I was high, I went for the desert psych of bands like the Meat Puppets or even the neopsychedelia of Camper Van Beethoven. 

That’s a just few of the 80s bands that I adored. There’s one band, the second part of their name is the surfers, in my new religious life, I cannot even say the first part of their name. But they are a very psychedelic punk band.

Fascinated by the pure origins of American folk rock, I probably resented the Deadhead label though, and stopped short of “getting on the bus,” even though I was utterly fascinated by Deadheads and the Dead and by what one friend called her encounter with “the acid god.” 

The attraction of potent mind medicines and the encouragement of long-haired mentors got me to two Grateful Dead shows, only two: my first was in Alpine Valley in the summer of 1987, and again, at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena in spring of 1988. 

I remember, already when the drugs were starting to take effect before I got into the building at the Joe Louis show, seeing kids I knew from church camp in Ohio, at the Dead show, and it really messed with me. But I think it was a suburban rite of passage in the Midwest, for many of us, in the 80s, to go to our first Dead show. Of course that was 1987, I will make a point about that in a moment.

We caught the middle of three on that Wisconsin run, a sunshiny Saturday afternoon show, having driven through the early morning from Detroit, where I was working for the season as a salad chef in an upscale vegetarian joint. 

So 1987 was a very meaningful year for me. I was at Antioch College, the now almost defunct Antioch College. 

I had already walked 200 miles down the Florida coast as part of a mobile anti-nuke caravan; I had lived for a brief spell in poverty with Catholic Worker-style soup-kitchen protestants in Atlanta, Georgia, and then I had followed the first leg of U2’s Joshua Tree tour, through the American southwest, some of it for credit at that legendary Antioch in Yellow Springs. 

I do not have a lot to say about Yellow Springs, other than the fact that there were Deadheads everywhere. 

[shows picture]. This photo that I rummaged through my storage unit [just on Monday] to find, to bring to show you today, shows what I was, which was the peace punk. 

On the left you’ve got the stealie on the back of a jean jacket; I think putting it on the back of jean jacket was a big thing in the 80s. But you’ve got a DC reggae punk band the Bad Brains and the peace sign on the woman’s jacket. I don’t remember any of these folks’ names, but these were my classmates, at my first year at Yellow Springs.   

This of course was the summer for “Touch of Grey,” and while I resist thinking of myself as a come-lately bandwagon middle-class MTV-head, that essentially includes a little bit of what I was, even if days after my first Dead show, seeking more hippy cred, I also attended my first Rainbow Gathering in the North Carolina mountains. 

For a first time show, summer tour at Alpine Valley was magical and transcendent. Writing about the scene for my primitive fanzine, Babyfish, I recalled: “The hippies are swimming in the golf course hazards, they’re sun-bathing under trees, and fornicating on the fairways. What was once a parking lot has undergone a profound transformation into bohemian marketplace.”

I’m sure you all know this scene. “The gypsies are peddling incense, bells, tie-dyes, hand-woven colorful bracelets, LSD, crystals, stickers, and all forms of tribute to the cause of the phenomenon.” Nothing quite like your first show, nothing quite like your first Shakedown Street. The music had not yet started, and the drugs had not yet kicked in.”

Of everything in that amazing set, looking back and listening on Archive-dot-org, I get chill-bumps knowing that my first show would include a Tennessee Jed, seven years before I would ditch my Midwest roots for middle Tennessee. But also, a late show “Wharf Rat.” 19-year-old me at the very beginning of a two-decade drinking and using career, I got a “Wharf Rat” at his first show, a prophetic sign of something to come, far far far down the road. 

They say that even Jerry Garcia was clean and sober on that tour, and I cannot describe the feelings that knowledge now brings to me. Not a seasoned tape-collector or setlist scientist like some of you who can study the exponentially dense collection of extant recordings, but I hone in on just these two tapes from my own Dead shows for my sacred rediscovery. 

But if someone told me (and someone probably did tell me back then) that the Dead’s actual music only “worked” for audiences when we were high, I probably believed this myth. Truth be told, I was under the influence of LSD and other drugs and alcohol at my only two Dead shows. 

So are the narrative arcs and mystic architectures of the psychedelic experiences inherent to the Grateful Dead, is that now lost to the Wharf Rat, in our faded flashback memories? Can a person fully embody the Deadhead experience, especially the live show, without drugs, not even one over-priced beer?

Part of the purpose for my talking to you this afternoon is to show you how we Wharf Rats do it. I am going to get there in just a moment, and I have some testimonies from fellow sibling Wharf Rats.

For twenty-years, I drifted away from the Dead and fell deeper into alcoholism and other addictions. When I landed a teaching gig and a more stable income, my return to hardcore music fandom found me returning first to U2, but then also to the Americana and indie-rock scenes, with My Morning Jacket, out of Kentucky, being one of my favorite contemporary groups of this century. 

Living in Tennessee took me to Bonnaroo by 2006, catapulting me headlong into the modern festival scene. Spring break 2007, I followed the Jacket, first to Georgia and the 40 Watt Club, and then Florida, where I found a spot on the rail for the Jacket’s headlining set at a now-defunct festival called Langerado. And then, after one song, I blacked out, from too much absinthe and shrooms, which meant that I could never remember the show, much less the setlist, which was very awkward, because I was supposed to be covering it for an online fanzine. 

Being an alcoholic and addict meant that I could not do what others did freely. I cannot indulge in certain compulsive behaviors or use substances, even the sacraments, safely. What started out a good time, becomes a bad time, with frequent blackouts, wrecked automobiles, depleted bank accounts, and destroyed romances. They later told me in meetings: alcohol was your friend, then alcohol was your best friend, then alcohol was your only friend, and then, it tried to kill you. 

Fast forward to 2009, and you find me, a real rock bottom alcoholic, and hardcore music fan volunteering at Bonnaroo, with only forty days dry, after decades of drunkenness. Some yellow balloons called me to a circle of folks sitting in the grass in a patch of field, tucked behind a smoothie vendor. 

These were my people, recovering alcoholics and addicts -- and they were still heads. They gave up the drink and drugs -- but not the dance. Sobriety support meetings at shows? Yes, please. Listening to their shares, which were as much about drugs as about drinks, this lit up parts of my brain long dormant. 

Sobriety was a commitment and a lifestyle. The bottle was but a symptom. So no more marijuana and mushroom maintenance for me. 

Who were these people and where did they come from? 

These were the Yellow Balloon meetings, which I soon learned, had spun-off and descended from the Wharf Rats, a group of Deadheads who got clean and sober on tour, way back in the inebriated 80s, fans who initiated the set break support meetings, so abstinent fans could stay on the bus and continue to boogie. 

So perhaps, if the Deadheads could spawn a movement as meaningful and strong as 12-step meetings at major music festivals and on jam-band tours with spin-offs like the Phellowship, the Grateful Dead itself might be worth a closer look. 

Over the next few years, this is from 2009 until now, I started collecting Grateful Dead books, records, stickers, posters, and more, diving deeper and deeper into the canonical mythology of the collected songbook, which is why all of us come to an event like this. 

When Dead and Company formed in 2015, I finally got on the bus. I finally became the full-blown Deadhead they thought I was all along, just by looking at young me. Long before seeing or even hearing my first Dead song back in the 80s, I was told I was a Deadhead. Now you will find me catching as many shows as often as time and finances afford. 

Over this last decade of my sobriety, as I have dug deeper and deeper into my Dead fandom, and I have also discovered, this is really a topic for another afternoon, there are safe modalities for mind-altering experiences, which include exercise, yoga, prayer/meditation/contemplation, even participation in traditional religion, the psychedelic breathwork techniques developed by Stan Grof, and many many more. 

Most of all, a Dead show is a spiritual experience unto itself. 

For years, I was a fan of the poet Rumi, and I have always been a whirling dervish at heart, so I have developed quite my own spinning practice. Now the “official” spinners maybe have faded away, but spinning has not. So you will find me with the spinners at the show.

The Dead-flavored live music excursions are now for me what they have always been for many, an all-encompassing, transformative, physical, ecstatic, and spiritual experience.

It’s my audacious claim that the sober deadheads can receive a psychedelic epiphany at shows, enjoy some of the best sober support meetings around, get home safely, and remember the setlist detail the next day. Not only is there life after active addiction, it can be a miracle every day on the shakedown street of the spirit with china cat sunflowers and scarlet begonias all around. 

In preparing this talk, I sought out testimonies of some of my fellow Wharf Rats, and a few weeks ago, I created a private Facebook group to conduct some primary research and oral history. [If anyone is thinking about doing this, I even put a little “IRB-style” disclaimer in the Facebook group for everybody.] 

Our small group of Wharf Rats, we had combined at least 100 years of sobriety -- but more than 1000 Dead shows combined between us. 

To be a Wharf Rat, is to live in the paradox of being in Recovery from addiction within the context and culture where, for many of us, our addictions once thrived.

Years ago, one of the first years that my Anniversary Coin was Wharf Rat-themed, I posted a picture of my coin online, a non-Wharf Rat said, “Why do you have a Steal-your-face on your sobriety medallion? Like what is that about man? Aren't the Dead the defining celebration of everything you are allegedly recovering from?"

[So the t-shirts and stickers are not even as cool. I am going to pass this around, so everybody can feel how special this is. This is my ten year coin, that I picked up last May. I had it given to me by my spouse at a Wharf Rat meeting at Bonnaroo in 2019, for my ten year. Spread the love of that around.] 

So I wanted, for the last part of my talk, to share some of the testimonials from other Wharf Rats on this question. Because I think to be a Wharf Rat is to go hard at this paradox of being a Head, unapologetically being a Head, and being sober at the same time. 

So these words that follow are from my sister-brother-sibling Wharf Rats online:

-“For me the spiritual and transformative power of music has always been a constant. Additionally, ‘the scene’ was more about brotherly and sisterly love, personal expression, and collectively creating a slice of utopia in an otherwise dystopic world. None of that requires substances, and in fact getting all f-ed up can actually run counter to that. It is when my connection to music has waned are  the times I get in spiritual trouble.”

-“To me the Grateful Dead embody the single-minded purpose of folks from far and wide coming together to embrace a single moment together. What could be more spiritual than that?”

- “While I had fleeting moments of bliss and magical experiences, the majority of time I still spent in my head with my thoughts which were mostly negative. Fast forward to sobriety and the Wharf Rats, I today listen to more psychedelic music than ever before which I connect with on a deep and spiritual level. While my ego ran the show before and I was concerned with what others thought of my appearances, etc, that is not so much the case any more as I can often ‘dance as if no one is looking.’ Moreover, I hear subtleties and nuances in the music I never even knew existed before. And perhaps most importantly I can connect with people on a grand scale, while before I was a lonely person in a room full of people who felt like I was somehow fraudulent and did not belong or fit in.” 

[My friend who wrote that, I think he is talking about imposter syndrome. If you have heard of imposter syndrome, we professors have that a lot. If you are a professor and a recovering alcoholic, imposter syndrome is really a thing.]

-“I hear the music, I dance like crazy, and it has become a form of meditation for me.”

-“It went from having to use drugs to enjoy the music to having the music get me high.”

-“The joy of music, the gift of being transported, a place to talk to God. I’ve had more psychedelic experiences clean than ever before using. Music is therapy for me.”

[And one person described the scene at the table. 

So if you have been at a big show, recent shows, at Dead and Company, it is out where they have Participation Row. So that is where you can register to vote, for [pause] Bernie or whoever [laughter], where you can sign a petition, you can buy a charity guitar signed by somebody in the band, and all the other kind of non-profit swag, etc. So they have the Wharf Rat table set up there. So at a show or at festival or wherever, at the yellow balloons, we also give out candy and chocolate, very important to maintain your sugar levels when you are abstaining at a show, like that. 

This person says that a “wook” comes up to the Wharf Rat table and asked to borrow a pipe. [laughter] So then they explained, the Wharf Rats explained to the “gentleman wook” that we are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, so we do not have any drug paraphernalia at our table. Sorry. 

He’s like, “Oh so you are like a subculture within a subculture.” 

When I was young and using actively, of course being a young alcoholic and drug user is a form of rebellion. So in a subculture where that is part of our rite of passage, it is kind of cool to be the sober kids, kind of rebelling against that part of our rebellion.]   

The scene is fabled to us, like this, could have been a threat to us in our active addiction, to our health, to our  mental health, to our spiritual well-being, to our physical health, not to mention the legal problems that some of us active users got into during the height of the drug wars, this same place, this scene is now a place for us for healing and hope. So I’m a Deadhead, I’m a Wharf Rat, I’m Andrew, that’s all I’ve got, thanks for hearing my story.