Pass Picada

From the patio of the Bluegill Restaurant, you cannot see the candy-striped smokestacks of Plant Barry rising twenty miles away in north Mobile County, at the site of Alabama Power’s 600-acre coal-ash pond. The back-end of the restaurant, which sits on the eastern portion of The Causeway in Spanish Fort, looks out over Pass Picada channel — a veritable honey-hole for redfish, speckled trout, and largemouth bass— before flowing into Chacaloochee Bay. Families stand along the rickety dock after dining and kids angle for privileged glimpses of alligators loitering idly for scraps. Elvis likely stood here during one of several Bluegill experiences in the ’50s, perhaps after the time he performed at a Vigor High School assembly, only to have the show cut short due to the saltiness of his below-the-belt gyrations.  

Standing along the Pass in the magic hour, among the cattails and cordgrass, hyacinth and lotus blooms, it’s easy to forget the threat that looms northward in the Delta. Before the 2008 coal-ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. — a spill that resulted in nearly $3 billion in damages and cleanup costs — the issue of coal ash was not part of the public imagination. Over the past seven years, due to the work of Mobile Baykeeper and others, coal ash is now very much on the minds of coastal Alabamians.

If you’re not privy to the news, you can learn why Mobile Baykeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Notice Of Intent To Sue Alabama Power for its plans to leave more than 21 million tons of coal ash buried along the Mobile River, a historic body of water that was designated by American Rivers as the “third most endangered river” in the U.S. in 2022. Litigation has always been a means of last resort for Mobile Baykeeper, and these recent events are no exception. 

In this time of global upheaval and cataclysm (both actual and imagined), when all seems so transient and short-lived, we have the chance to ensure a vital corner of our world, and one of national significance no less, is preserved and protected just as it should be. As always, we can’t do it without your support.

— Caine O’Rear, Communications Director, on behalf of the Baykeeper Team

Waterworld

As we hurtle into the second week of this savage heatwave, the need to jump in the water and cool off becomes even stronger. Fortunately, our weekly SWIM program lets you know where it’s safe to splash around and get some relief. 

Here in Coastal Alabama, we are lucky to live on the water during the summer sizzle — the psychological benefit of that is huge. Anyone who’s spent some dog days in a landlocked region knows exactly what I’m talking about.

What separates Coastal Alabama from the rest of the Yellowhammer State is the water and the culture that it engenders. Early in its history, Mobile operated as a sort of colony, almost oblivious to the laws and customs of its more northern statesmen. It had its own code. It’s a history peppered with pirates, sailors, and libertines, a culture once closer in kin to Havana than New York. You just have a different mindset when you’re a port town on the water. There’s something about the mystery of the sea and the possibility of escape and change. For that, we are lucky.

Our waters offer myriad summer excursions. Family trips to the beach. Fishing tournaments. Mullet tosses. Kayaking on the Delta. Tubing. I could go on. 

I was lucky enough to spend several childhood summers in Point Clear, where I learned to ski and cast a bait-net. I heard the bells cling in the pre-dawn dark announcing numerous jubilees. I caught speckled trout from a Stauter near Middle Bay Light. And I rode my Power Wheels off the wharf into Mobile Bay kamikaze-style with my fellow hooligans (It was the ’80s, after all).

Water is the source of all things Mobile, and we protect it in various ways at Mobile Baykeeper. We investigate citizen concerns about pollution. We track sewage spills and let you know when and where they occur. We educate our youth about the watershed in our schools and libraries. Protecting our waterways is a constant battle that requires daily vigilance, and it can’t happen without your support

So stay cool and see you on the water. 

— From the Mobile Baykeeper June Newsletter

Review of Shane MacGowan Biography, “A Furious Devotion” (Rolling Stone)

Writing the biography of the man best known for marrying traditional Irish music with British punk — a sound once described by concertina player Noel Hill of the band Planxty as a “terrible abortion” of Irish music — was never going to be easy. To further complicate the matter, Shane MacGowan’s hatred of interviews is almost as notorious as his long and sophisticated affair with drugs and alcohol. Such is punk.

When it comes to the story of MacGowan’s life, it has never been about “just the facts.” However, an attempt has now been made. A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan by British journalist Richard Balls serves up the most thorough account of the man — and myth — to date. In a nearly 400-page biography, out Nov. 18 in the U.S., Balls has attempted through extensive interviews and research to do what has proved so difficult through the years — to parse where the facts end and the myth begins. “Some of these never get resolved and probably never will be, but I am determined not to give up in my quest to sort the myths from the truths and better understand this shy and complex man,” Balls writes.

The son of Irish émigré parents, MacGowan was born and raised in England and spent childhood summers and holidays in rural County Tipperary, Ireland, with his mother’s extended family of staunch Irish republicans. Now residing in Dublin, he still speaks with an English accent, but maintains that he is Irish, for it was those experiences in Ireland that MacGowan says formed his musical and spiritual core. Some of the first traditionalists to hear the Pogues amalgamations might have been shocked, even appalled, but other icons of traditional Irish music such as the Dubliners and Christy Moore understood the power of MacGowan’s writing early on.

Read more at Rolling Stone.

Cold War

We were spies in a foreign land
I was a fugitive, running just as fast as I can
You were a bird on a bludgeoned wing, busted flat in Dallas
Dancing for a diamond ring

You asked me if I’d been here before
As I regaled you with memories of my melancholy whores
You crossed your legs and lit a cigarette
Talked about your mama, and said as your eyes got wet

I’m tired of fighting in this cold war
Nobody wins that’s just daddy’s drunken folklore
I’m leaving this town tomorrow you can come if you want

In the armpit of Arkansas
Where the river split and sang neath the stillborn stars
You started bitching we were out of beer
As we danced real close and came upon a midnight clear

In the morning with the mountain dew
And the sun’s cruel eye, the day after Waterloo
Lou Reed and that summer in Siam, you took a walk on the wild side
Oliver Stone in Vietnam

I’m tired of fighting in this cold war
Don’t want to die for a country I don’t know no more

Based on the poem "Cold War" by Quinten Collier.

20 Years

The U.S. Embassy in Prague after the 9/11 attacks. Photo by Ehud Amir. Creative Commons License via Wikipedia Commons.

It was just after six o’clock in Prague when one of my roommates, Barton, a tall, laconic Texan who had been a basketball star in his youth, entered our flat in Vinohrady and said with characteristic stoicism, “Someone blew up the Twin Towers.” He might as well have been talking about the Laundromat changing its weekend hours, judging by his tone.

It was a Tuesday (as you know), and Barton was returning from his afternoon duties teaching business English to a crew of budding capitalists somewhere downtown. I had been home for a few hours after wrapping up my own classes in Malá Strana, at a private language school next to the American Embassy and just a stone’s throw from Prague Castle. My other roommate, Clay, a Texan and a childhood friend of Barton’s, had spent the day at the flat, smoking European cigarettes, debating man’s place in the universe, and devising plans to publish an expatriate newspaper called The Village Idiot (which, sadly, never came to pass).

Barton, having just learned of the attacks via text, was scant on information. There was no television in the flat and no Internet service. Anxious, we fired off a volley of frantic texts and arranged to meet our friend Tom at a pub in Žižkov, where he said a TV could be found.

The pub (I forget its name) was one of those nondescript watering holes in Žižkov that bore all the hallmarks of midwinter Soviet charm: decades-old red tablecloth, bad lighting, old bartender with a grizzled beard. Žižkov, where I lived months later, has always been a working-class stronghold and even carried the sobriquet “Red Žižkov” prior to the Velvet Revolution.  It was easy to see why.

Tom was sitting alone at a long table not far from the television when we arrived. We all hugged, took a seat, and for the next few hours, over pint after pint of Gambrinus, watched the scenes of carnage unfold on the screen as a Prague newscaster delivered the rundown in Czech, a language that fell on deaf ears and only added to our sense of disorientation.

The next morning, as I made my way to class, I saw a crowd gathered in front of the American Embassy. Flowers and various condolences were strewn over the ancient cobblestones. Many of my Czech friends extended sympathies that week, but it wasn’t long before you caught a whiff of “America had it coming” by the odd expatriate at the bar, a sentiment that was hard to hear at the time.

Published in the Prague Daily Monitor.

Jake Peavy’s Second Act

Photo by Matthew Coughlin

The pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium can feel like the loneliest place in the world. It’s a feeling Jake Peavy knows in his bones. A Mobile native and one of the most decorated professional athletes to ever come out of the Azalea City, Peavy wasn’t immune to the slings and arrows that come with being a big-league hurler, despite his many accolades. It’s midsummer, and we’re talking with the former pitcher in the mixing room at Dauphin Street Sound, the state-of-the-art studio in downtown Mobile that he and a team of local talent opened back in 2016.

Peavy is waxing about his days in the big leagues and what got him hooked on music in the first place. After winning titles with the Giants and Red Sox, the two-time World Series Champion retired from the game in 2016 after a 15-year professional career, but in his jeans and T-shirt, he still appears to be in fighting shape.  

“So here’s a picture of me going to Yankee Stadium and getting my butt kicked by the Yankees,” he continues with some animation. Peavy is a passionate storyteller; in fact, it’s clear after spending more than 10 minutes with him that he’s passionate about most anything he does. And while baseball may be a team sport, pitching is a solo act, and music became a way for him to unwind after three hours of hyper-focused intensity that, in the moment, felt like a matter of life and death. “It’s lonely on the mound, and it’s lonely with the press afterwards. It sucks leaving the stadium, getting on the bus, and then getting off the bus. And the last thing you’re going to do when you get to your hotel room is flip on the television and watch the sports channels and highlights.”

When Peavy first got called up in 2002, most of his teammates were 10, 15, 20 years older than him. He couldn’t go out to bars with the team, so he ended up spending a lot of time in his room by himself. It was in this scenario that the St. Paul’s alumnus found a creative outlet through music. Padres third-base coach Tim Flannery liked to pick country tunes in the hotel stairwell after games, and it was Flannery who gave Peavy his first six-string. “I could sit in there, play that guitar and not think about how I got my ass kicked,” he laughs.

Read the full story at Mobile Bay Magazine here.

The Steel Woods’ “All Of Your Stones” (Press Bio)

The forthcoming album from The Steel Woods, All of Your Stones, took on a new dimension back in January when the band’s founding guitarist and principal creative force, Jason “Rowdy” Cope, passed away peacefully in his sleep at age 42.

The news sent shock waves among Rowdy’s friends, family, across the band’s fanbase, and the music community at large. What made his passing surprising is that the North Carolina native was doing so well personally and artistically, having in recent years overcome the twin demons of alcohol and PTSD. Though no cause of death has been revealed, the family and band believe Cope’s death was related to his having Type 2 diabetes, a condition he’d only been diagnosed with in late 2018.

The new album is the third offering from one of the fastest rising bands in the worlds of independent country and Southern rock. Since releasing their debut Straw In The Wind album in 2017, The Steel Woods have staked their claim as worthy successors of Southern rock icons Lynyrd Skynyrd, with a dynamic live show and a songwriting verve that draws inspiration from country icons like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

Derek Stanley, the band’s manager and a close friend of Cope, is finding consolation in the fact that Rowdy did exactly what he set out to do musically in his career. “He was able to put out three records without any handcuffs,” says Stanley, whose last text to Rowdy was a Soundcloud link to the new album.

When The Steel Woods entered the studio to record All Of Your Stones, smack in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s clear they had something to prove, if only to themselves. Cope had wrestled with undiagnosed PTSD and its multitude of symptoms after the release of sophomore album Old News. Wes Bayliss, the band’s singer and co- songwriter, wasn’t always sure what the future held for the group, which is rounded out by Johnny Stanton (bass) and Isaac Senty (drums).

“He was in a bad place for a little while, and he came out on top. I was real proud of him for doing good. And we still made a great record after all that.” said Bayliss.

An Alabama native, Bayliss first met Cope in 2015, back when Rowdy was still the guitarist for Jamey Johnson.

Thirteen years Cope’s junior, Bayliss found a sure-fire chemistry with his fellow bandmate from the jump. Within three months of meeting one another, the band had cut the first half of their critically lauded debut album. He grew up with country music and his family’s gospel tunes, while Rowdy was deep into protometal bands like Led Zeppelin in addition to the classic country canon. “I’ve always said it’s a real push-pull thing, that somehow we managed to find middle ground,” Bayliss says about their working relationship. “And it happens to be something that everybody liked.”

The album’s title track “All Of Your Stones” is an allegorical number about all the good Rowdy built — personally and artistically — from the darker parts of his life. From a musical standpoint, the “stones” are the disagreements and heartbreaks that he was able to sublimate into artistic gold. Personally, the “stones” were the building blocks from which he built an inner peace. “Rowdy really wanted to fly a flag for healing,” says Stanley. “‘All of Your Stones” is meant to be inspirational by using negativity to build something positive.’”

The album’s first track is called “Out Of The Blue”; written by Cope and close friend Aaron Raitiere. It’s a personal manifesto about putting the past behind you and moving forward in the light. “That’s the song that got me thinking that this is Rowdy’s record,” Bayliss says. “I think I [tried to] rewrite the chorus and add a couple of chords, but he made it clear that he didn’t want me to do anything to it.” “I’ve seen red, I’ve seen white/ I’ve seen death, I’ve seen life/ But I never saw myself coming through/ I’ve finally come out of the blue/ Lord I’ve finally come out of the blue,” Bayliss belts on the soaring rocker.

The songs that make up All Of Your Stones now sound eerily prescient given Cope’s passing in January. Most of the tunes came from the creative pen and guitar of Rowdy, but even the ones contributed by Bayliss (“Ole Pal”) and guest songwriter Ross Newell (“Run On Ahead”) have a special poignancy.

“The majority of the songs seem to make a whole lot of sense with Rowdy’s story,” says Bayliss. “And this happened to be his record with the exception of a few songs. I’ve got a few on there [that I wrote] that didn’t make a whole lot of sense until his passing.” As Bayliss sings on “Ole Pal”: “We can’t forget about you now/ They put your picture up, down at the city hall/ Next to a flag and a plaque/ That said you never made it back/ And in a few words, you’re a hero to us all.”

Reflecting on Rowdy’s vision and passion for the band, Stanley says the last thing Jason would have wanted was for the music to stop. Bayliss concurs. “We were always going to do the things you do when you put out a record. Now, there is simply a little more reason.”

Indeed there is more reason. With the release of All Of Your Stones, The Steel Woods now have the responsibility to keep the fire burning. After all, it’s what Rowdy would want.

— Caine O’Rear