The Soap Box

The day after my 20th birthday I walked out to the end of our farm drive, stuck out my thumb, and that was that. I was off on a 3-month independent study, hitchhiking around the Appalachians visiting banjo players…a 3-month independent study I’m still on 43 years later. I’d never been south of Milwaukee and knew nothing about where I was going or whom I’d meet. The few images I had of Southerners were things I’d seen on TV: either the ridiculous caricatures of the Beverly Hillbillies or the pinch-faced hatred of anti-Civil Rights backlash. Read more »

This morning there was an commentary in the New York Times about end-of-life decisions (, a topic that strikes to the heart of many of us these days. Like those of us taking on increased responsibility for aging parents. And those of us wanting to avoid wrenching family disputes over our own wishes. Death, that great equalizer, knows no favorites, though she can often be held at bay by throwing unbelievable (and usually futile) mountains of cash at her. If you have it. Read more »

When I was a kid attending the Marathon County Fair I knew that if I wanted to ride the Ferris wheel I had to have money for a ticket. If I wanted a hot dog I needed a quarter. So I’m a little surprised at the confusion of people who just can’t figure out why we can’t fight two…or is it three?...wars and cut taxes at the same time. Never in the history of our republic have we attempted such an equation. No wonder we’re falling behind the rest of the world in math and science.
--------------------------------------------------------------- Read more »

This month gives the world pause to remember that Tuesday morning ten years ago when, against a glorious clear blue sky, everything changed. What we had only read about in newspapers and heard in reports from distant marketplaces came to America in all its horrifying reality. On that day we saw acts of astonishing courage and selflessness. We heard the 911 calls and voicemails, not of hatred and revenge, but of love, of reassurance. It was not a day when the courageous first responders asked party affiliation or religion or sexual orientation or immigration status. Read more »

My thoughts exactly...JM

They say that winners get to write history. Three years after the meltdown of our financial markets, it’s clear who is winning and who is losing. Wall Street — arms outstretched in triumph — is racing toward the finish-line while millions of American families are struggling to stay on their feet. With victory seemingly in hand, the historical rewrite is in full swing. Read more »

Well it’s here, I guess: the 2012 Election Cycle. My poor friends up in Iowa and New Hampshire are bracing for the worst. Despite Obama’s many stumbles (some might say he was tripped…) there doesn’t seem to be anyone giving him a serious run for our money. But I do want to weigh in early here on my preferences. Read more »

The National Anthem at this year’s Super Bowl: forget about flubbing the lyrics, it was everything I dislike about the modern renditions of the song…all about Me instead of Us. Vocal acrobatics, self-aggrandizing performance, “listen to me, listen to me!” American Idol-atry. Impossible to sing along with, even for those few of us who actually know the words. And as a composer, it’s the trend of songs reduced to mere vehicles to show vocal skill. Why bother to write lyrics? Read more »

from the Appalseed Newsletter January, 1993

When my usual form of airborne transportation, US Air, when on strike this last fall it was, thankfully, a short interruption of their normally fine service. It caused a lot of schedule juggling but, luckily, all my commitments were kept. The juggling resulted not so much out of canceled flights but because, like a lot of people, I won't cross a picket line. Read more »

This month ushered in the most difficult remembrance of 9/11 yet. It was a reminder of how much we’ve missed, how much we’ve squandered since that Tuesday morning nine years ago. It was a day when the impossible seemed to make everything possible. The world rallied to our support. For weeks people lined up at blood banks to offer something, anything, their very blood…when it was clear by noon that day there was no one to give blood to. And these children of the Greatest Generation were waiting for word. Read more »

When I was a young man of 19 years I first ventured from my home in Wisconsin to the Appalachians thinking I was going there to find banjo players. I found much more. I found families and communities that welcomed me into their homes and hearts, began to claim me as an adopted son, and will forever have a place in my own heart. Most of the first places I landed were coal-mining communities and I quickly became familiar with the routine and the risks of this industry and the people who help make our nation run. So it is with more than a little personal interest that I have read any news from the coalfields the nearly forty years since. Read more »