18

I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord.  And it’s not made by hand…

–Johnny Cash

            Now we must talk of those first recordings.  The first recording David Threnody made in the summer of 1945.  When he was twenty-seven years old.  Living in New Orleans.  What led him to write the first song, and then another.  What kept him writing.  Finding the music to go along with it.  In the play of his hands across the guitar—the Gibson ES-150 stolen fromMississippi, lost and then returned again missing a string.  The first notes always strummed on the acoustic—Jonathon Bonnor’s guitar—for he still had it, from when it was pawned and given him when he was nine years old.  The bullet hole still present from what happened when he was fifteen.  He picked the notes and then found the words.  None of it written down at first.  Only the sounds, the sounds coming from a room—leased on the West Bank, in Algiers—among his people.

            His room overlooked the dens—the warehouses of New Orleans carnival krewes where the floats were constructed and stored.  And he came in season to see the colors—the purple, green, and gold of the fanfare.  His enlistment ending soon after his heroics in Bastogne, and his arrival in New Orleans coinciding with carnival time.  The SP yard wasn’t far away.  The Southern Pacific rail yards known for their ability to repair or create replacements for any part needed for any type of locomotive—the large vacant strips enticing David to plant the seeds of his homegrown among the wreckage of old trains and stacked rail ties, the seeds left from dime bags purchased from fellow musicians in the Quarter upon his arrival.  And Johnny Tribout was with him, a roommate, joining him in New Orleans after returning to Alabama first to visit family.

            David didn’t go home.  He didn’t visit his parents in East St. Louis—his father’s pawn shop still open and run by one of his brothers now.  His ship came straight to port in New Orleans, and he didn’t go any further upriver.  He wasn’t ready to go home yet.  He felt he needed to do something first.  He needed some sort of absolution from the killing he’d witnessed in the war, and he thought New Orleans was the place to find it.  Find his music again—his voice in the music.

            And maybe it was death.  Death was on his mind.  He’d had some close calls, and enough had happened for him to wonder about it, even though he was only just turned twenty-seven.  It didn’t preoccupy his mind, but he wondered about it—how he was going to die.  Not when—to him that still seemed far off since he’d made it through the war—but how.  We all have to die of something, and he sometimes wondered what it would be.  Would it be a slow sickness?  A sudden and violent accident?  Would he die in his sleep as an old man?  Or at the hands of some enemy, someone who meant him harm, as he’d seen already in his war memories?  Maybe it would be a car accident, a slip in the shower.  Something odd and utterly trivial.  Or would it be the consequence of some choice he made?  Some unbreakable chain of events carried out by his own doing.   A bad habit maybe?  His drinking?  Maybe his liver wouldn’t make it, and he was slowly killing himself even though he didn’t foresee it with each sip, each drink, and years down the road it would finally catch up with him.  Maybe his lungs would do him in from smoking—each cigarette, even the enjoyable ones of a morning with first coffee, each one the how of his death.  But could he change anything?  What if stopped drinking, stopped smoking—then what—what would it be that would finally do him in, sooner if not later?  And even now, as he thought of it—someone was dying.  The how of it was happening to someone right now.

            And what if he was evil?  In an evil way when it happened?  Was that it?  David Threnody wondered if his heart was right.  If his heart was right with God if the how of his death was to happen sooner than later.  Of course for him to even wonder it belied the answer.  For one thing for sure is the surety of evil.  David had done some bad things during the war, and even though he had his doubts that he could be forgiven the very fact that a part of him wanted to be forgiven meant he wasn’t purely evil.  He wasn’t a bad man, even if he had done some bad things, and was still doing them.  A bad man doesn’t want forgiveness and doesn’t ask for it.  It’s a matter of faith really.  Evil has supreme faith in itself.  It never doubts itself.  It never repents.  Evil knows it’s evil, and its knowledge is thorough and confident.  You’d know for sure if you’re evil, if you sold something you can never get back, and if any part of you doubts that or wants it back, then these doubts and desires are your faith.  Funny how your doubts on being truly evil is your faith in being good, but it was something David Threnody was beginning to realize after he came home from the war, after he settled in New Orleans, and began writing a few songs–songs about his time in Mississippi.  He needed this.  He needed this time to come full circle before he could even consider returning to his family and home in East St. Louis.  And as fate would have it he would meet his wife before this would happen.

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