Monday, March 28, 2011

Meet Mary

This is Mary. I wrote about her in this story for JRS. After editing out a few embarrassing dangling modifiers, I think it turned out well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Part Two: the blues

So, as described in the last post, Bob Dylan likes my blog. Apparently, according to my dream, I wrote a great blog about blues music. Great enough for Bob Dylan to declare that I get the blues. Sooo... I'll try to make that dream post come to life.

... This is tough actually.... How do you explain the blues?

Listening to good, and I mean GOOD blues, I think, is a musical representation of what it's like to watch the sun go down in Mississippi over the river. Its notes smell like exhaust from old trucks and cigarettes from juke joints. If you close your eyes and listen to Robert Johnson or Blind Willie Johnson or Bessie Smith sing blues or gospel, it's... damn this is hard... it's like feeling your bare feet glide over a dusty, unvarnished, hard wood floor on a hot day.

Does this make sense? I'll try harder.

Let me explain. I didn't know music beyond a few tracks on "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou," until I moved to Mississippi. And, like everything else about Mississippi, this music changed my life. It was the first time I ever moved away from home, experienced anything outside Nebraska. And then I heard music. Real music. And it wasn't from a mix, or a link or a PBS video. I discovered it on my own, which is unusual. And I went to B.B. King's juke joint. And the town where Tommy (not Robert) Johnson sold his soul to the devil. And it was hot. And it was humid. And some parts of Mississippi were backwards. But I believed in it. Almost like religion.

Blues music pumps through your veins. You can feel it in your body like you can feel heartache or yearning. These voices will never get on American Idol; It's kind of like (apologies for all the similes) Lynda Barry, Abby's favorite comic book artist taught me. While it's not classically trained or even "correct" sometimes, it's a part of you. And it's in giving a part of you to the world that art is created. That is the blues. One person and his or her guitar, giving a part of himself to me and me experiencing it.

Now, I remember in the dream me listing songs. Because Bob Dylan offered to play "Church I'm Fully Saved Today," because I wrote about it in my blog. I woke thinking, "That's not blues, that's gospel." But it's the same to me, especially when blues singers do it.

So here's a few of my favorites:

1. "Church I'm fully saved today." as sung by Blind Willie Johnson. His voice makes me believe in something. He makes me want to believe in God even when I find it difficult. He makes me think of a small Baptist black church off a dusty road in a cotton field. And I want so badly to transport there and inhale the fervor and fire from the choir. The the song ends and I feel abandoned. What other kind of music can do that?

2. "Shake Sugaree" I don't know if this is blues or comedy or folk or what. But Elizabeth Cotton, Pete Seeger's nanny, sings this song like an angel. All of her other music is gruff and rough, and great. But this track is different. She is smooth, and melodic and I can't read her emotion. And there is nothing out there like it, like, Steve Buscemi said in "Ghost World," about the song "Devil Got My Woman."

3. "Devil Got my Woman" I heard this before I really knew what blues was, thanks to that movie, and I was on board. The scene where Enid just sits in her room, listening to the record, moving the needle back to the beginning every time it finishes. I get that. For me it was when I first got Canned Heat's "Sweet Sixteen" and "Bullfrog Blues."

4. "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" by Leadbelly. Abby gave me this track on a Christmas mix when I was 15. I played it out. It was a blues and folk mix. I memorized it. Probably one of the best gifts I ever had. She gave me a less popular version of his song. It's slower. More meloncholy than the popular version. It was originally titled "Black Girl," but when the lyric was changed to "My Girl," to make it more popular, it got it's new name. If you close your eyes and listen to his voice on the original version*** (which I can't find online), you can hear regret and dispair. You can tell he is going to forgive his woman and he knows she is going to do it again. And again. It's like finding out about love and loss without ever experiencing it.

Well, I guess that's it. If Bob Dylan is reading this, and if you dig it, you owe me a phone call. Well, actually you owe me some sort of celestial shout out. I'll be waiting. And I'll see you in my dreams.

*** In iTunes, under podcasts, search for the Black Media Archive. The original version is there for free.

Part One: the dream

So I had a wicked dream last night. I know, I know, it can be a chore listening to people talk about their dreams, much less reading about them. But I swear, it's worth it. And I'll keep it short. Hell, I'll even give you the punchline early so you'll read to the end: Bob Dylan read my blog and told me he liked it. There are also planets involved, if that pulls you in.

Ok. Here goes.

My parents, sister and I are at a hotel. It seemed like it was on the moon, or on a moon of another planet because the stars were so visible and close by. On the roof of the hotel, my parents and I are watching the plate align. Now, they were not like regular planets, more like the planets from The Little Prince*** and they were REALLY CLOSE, like in on of those Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers from grade school, only less lame.

Well, I had to get Abby to come and watch, and get my camera, but the elevator wouldn't work and I kept getting lost. By the time I got Abby, who was having a meltdown of some sort, and the camera back to the roof, the sun had set, the planets were gone and I missed the shot.

"That's ok," Dad said. "We didn't come here for that anyway. We came for the concert, which is just starting now."

So we head to the concert, which I am covering as a photojournalist. And right as Bob Dylan is about to start his first song, tens of thousands of people in the crowd, a mad galaxy of stars behind him, he spots me. He leaves the stage, puts his arm around me, and says, "Are you Molly Mullen? I read your blog. You get the blues," and walked off and did his set.

Apparently this show was for rock gods, because then Carlos Santana walked up to me and asked who I was that Bob Dylan was talking to me. Like a douche, I said, "I'm a pretty big deal."

Then the dream faded and I woke up feeling, and still feeling now, like I had an intimate moment with Bob Dylan.


***as a side note, when I redesigned this blog for my web design class, it was supposed to look like a page from, or inspired by The Little Prince. I always forgot to mention that.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Is this going to get me killed?

I just put up a Craigslist ad looking for roommates. While I have been planning on this for weeks, I just got around to it now. I put literally no thought or consideration into it whatsoever, so I might get a bunch of serial killers posing as Aussie UN workers or something.

So there's that. Anyone want to guess a number about how many naked pics I'm going to get in my inbox in the next few hours? The person who guesses closest wins a collage of all of them!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


So I skyped my family today. I feel homesick a good amount of the time, especially when I get to see everyone: Abby, Mom and Dad, Martha and Leo and Maryanne. But I am growing to appreciate my homesickness in a different way. I proud to have a home-base that I can return to. I am beginning to understand that it is a luxury not everyone has.

Working for JRS, and interviewing people, I frequently hear that people can never return to their countries. In order to apply for refugee status, you have to make the case as to why you can never go home.

So I just accepted that. I wrote what they say in my notebook and type a story, almost always including a quote about never going back.

I didn't think too much about this until last night, when I was having dinner with a friend who is applying for refugee status. We were talking about the food her mom used to make and how much I miss Omaha food. She said, "I bet you're pretty homesick here." And I agreed. Then she said, "Yeah, it's a scary thought to realize that I can never go home."

At this point, I'm going to stop taking Omaha for granted. I have something pretty precious back in Nebraska, and even if I''m not ready to lay down roots there just yet, I appreciate knowing it's there waiting for me.

So, yeah, as you all know, I can sometimes make Omaha out to be some sort of Plains Shangri La, but it's not Omaha itself that I love and appreciate so much. It's dad's cinnamon toast and the way he makes hot dogs. It's Mom's Christmas breakfasts. It's Maddy taking up too much space on the couch when I'm trying to watch Twilight Zone. It's having a fire in the fireplace in the middle of summer. It's Abby saying the same joke over and over again and demanding us to tell her how funny she is. It's Dundee. It's 50th Street. It's Ginger Cove and the cockerburls in the sand dunes. It's everyone and everywhere I have a memory.

That's home. And I love it and I miss it. And I appreciate it in whole new way.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Let me tell you about bioluminescence. Supposedly, according to the experts at wikipedia, it's a chemical reaction called chemiluminescence that happens in plants and animals that cause them to secrete a glowing chemical.

Last weekend, I experienced said chemical reaction up close and personal on an island off the coast of Ranong, Thailand. Ollie and I were in the area for work and decided to check it our for the weekend. Beautiful. Amazing. Sleeping in a beach shack, swinging in the hammock for hours on end singing Harry Belafonte out loud to myself and anyone passing by.

Our first night, we went to a beach party. Rasta music. Groovy bartenders and westerners doing things the judge and Dr Harris would not approve of. On our walk down the beach to said get-together, I noticed little greenish glowing dots in Ollie's footprints. I thought it was wicked cool, but forgot about it.

After the beach party (which was actually a fundraiser for some burnt-out drunk on the island), I decided to pay tribute to Michael Stipe and go for a swim.

So we run for it, making a mad dash into the calm, black water, under some of the brightest stars I've ever seen. But I look to my right and every step Ollie takes into the water, he is surrounded by tiny lightbulbs. Like swimming fireflies. BIOLUMINESCENCE.

As it turns out, there was a school(?) of illuminated plankton in the ocean that day, and just by coming into contact with these invisibly small creatures, cause the chemical reaction that lights them up. I can't quite explain it. Just think of swimming in the warm ocean at night, unable to see where the horizon meets the sky, surrounded by a miracle of nature that you didn't even know existed.

It wasn't until the next day that I found out how bad an idea it could have been. Apparently sharks feed at night, and the glowing plankton attract them to their prey. That may be why we had the water to ourselves...