Morag the Great!

It’s the summer of 2013. My husband, eight year old son, ten year old daughter, mother in-law, and I are traveling to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. 

My husband is the first driver on the narrow roads driving on the left side of the road. We have never experienced it before.

I am screaming, not because my husband is a bad driver, but because the view from my seat appears that the chances of us colliding with another vehicle seem much more likely than say, driving Interstate 95 in rush-hour traffic.

I say to my husband, “Pull over. I need to drive. I have way too many control issues to be a passenger in this vehicle. I keep thinking we are going to hit a vehicle or run off the road.”

I drive across a bridge onto Isle of Skye. There are pull-offs for vehicles every half mile or so. I guess if you run into trouble between the pull-offs, you are out of luck, and maybe causing a traffic jam.

I drive off the road a bit. We hit something that caused a tire to blow out. Fortunately, it occurred at a pull-off.

So far, I am getting a D-Minus in driving.

We put a spare tire on, and proceed from a rather scary situation to a situation that appears as though we have entered a Lord of the Rings movie set, minus Frodo Baggins.

Lush, lime-green rolling hills, waterfalls, and the most glorious, dramatic mountains I’ve ever seen. We have arrived in paradise. 

The B&B host is Morag. Her Gaelic dialect is so strong, I struggle to understand her most of the time.

The name Morag means “great”. Morag is a wonderful host.

My family drives into town for supper. My husband orders a venison burger topped with haggis.

The waitress writes down the order while I proclaim, “That’s disgusting!” 

My eight year old son says, “I’m ordering the mussels. I love mussels.”

I say, “Kiddo, I’m 98.7% certain you’ve never consumed mussels.” The waitress is probably thinking it’s a high-maintenance order.

After supper, we arrive to our vehicle and discover another tire is flat.

The following day is Sunday. There are no car repair shops open. We want to explore the island.

After a delicious breakfast spread, this is what I think Morag says: 

“My garment is tacky.”

What Morag actually says is that she can call us a taxi.

The taxi driver, Angus arrives at the B&B in a van to give us a tour of Isle of Skye, or as Morag calls it, An t-Eilean Sgitheanach. Pronunciation: I have no clue.

A few impressive highland cattle, with their long horns and shaggy coats that hang over their eyes, greet us next to the van. I wish I had some barrettes that I could use to fasten up that hair hanging over their eyes. 

Angus tells us that in the past, ferries were the only way to access the island. A bridge was built in 1995, which upset the locals because they did not want the traffic and accessibility.

Angus points out a village that is still abandoned from the Highland Clearances that started in 1750. I’ve never heard of the clearances. All I can think of to say is, “Well, that wasn’t very nice of them.” My son Charles says, “It’s very clear that this village was cleared out.”

We drive by the town Portree, a quaint waterside village lined with pastel homes the colors of a rainbow. Fishing boats line the harbor. 

Angus takes us to Faerie Glen. It feels like we’ve entered another planet. 

There are small round-topped grassy knolls, next to ponds, and large, spiral circles of stones.  A tall rock formation juts above the lush green knolls, reigning supreme over the enchanted scene.

My kids are in heaven. They are frolicking around, running up and down the hills. I’m waiting for Bilbo Baggins to suddenly emerge from a hobbit house.

Angus was a great tour guide.

When it’s time to depart the B&B, my daughter Rose realizes she left her bag in Angus’ van.

Morag calls Angus. He says he will send his brother right over with the bag.

We wait as long as we can. We have a train to catch, so we must leave.

We’re driving down the long driveway. A car pulls up and stops. We think it’s Angus’ brother.

My mother in-law rolls down her window and says, “Are you Angus’ brother?”

A blonde woman with a husky German accent says, “YES” It sounds like “YASE!”

My mother in-law says, without pause that a blonde German woman just said that she’s the brother of Angus from Scotland, “Do you have the bag?”

The gentleman driver pulls off abruptly, turns around, stops and yells, in a German accent,

“There’s been a terrible mistake!” And, they speed away.

I laugh so hard, I could have used Depends for Uncontrollable Laughter right about then.

Morag had the bag hand-delivered to us in the town where we were staying a few hours away.

After that, I referred to her as Morag the Great!

Birdwatching

My late mother in-law, Margaret, was an avid birdwatcher. She was president of the Audubon Society. She is the only reason I have spent time around birdwatchers. They are an interesting bunch.
Margaret held an annual bird count at the family house at Gwynn’s Island on the Chesapeake Bay. She invited her Audubon Society friends to the bird count. I think it has to do with tracking migratory patterns.
I don’t understand how that works. You spot an eagle, and you write down “one eagle”. Then, a little while later you spot another eagle. How do you know it’s not the same eagle?
If I had participated in the bird count, my bird count log might read, “A Flock of Seagulls, who, for the record, were not a great band.”
The next birding experience was at my in-laws mountain house in Highland County, Virginia, otherwise known as Little Switzerland. The mountain views are spectacular.
My husband and I are sitting on the porch. I reckon there might be around thirty hummingbirds hovering around the multiple feeders a few feet away from us. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The buzzing of the hummingbirds sound like someone inserted Energizer batteries into their wings, and they are going and going, and going, at one-hundred and ninety miles per hour.
I am startled out of the hummingbird trance by the sound of around twenty cars pulling into the driveway. My husband and I missed the memo about their impending arrival.
It’s a large crowd of birdwatchers. They are carrying high-falutin’ binoculars, cameras and tripods. They greet us, grinning ear to ear. They look as happy as I was when I saw the Rolling Stones in concert, however this is the opposite of a Rolling Stones concert.
They march up the mountain and stand there very quietly for at least an hour, waiting to see a golden-winged warbler. They get an A+ for patience. They come down the mountain. An enthusiastic guy says, “Wow! Now I can cross golden-winged warbler off the list!”
If a bird provides that much satisfaction to someone, they are gold for life.
I strike up a conversation with Ralph. He is the organizer of the birding tour. Ralph tells me this group of birdwatchers are from all over the country. The tour covers the best birdwatching spots in Highland County. Ralph tells me someone came from California just to see a golden-winged warbler.
I say, “How much does the tour cost?”
Ralph says, “Two thousand. It includes a boxed lunch – choice of a ham or turkey sandwich, chips, an apple and a chocolate chip cookie.”
I say, “For two thousand bucks there should be a chef cooking filet mignon on the mountain while you guys are waiting to see a golden-winged warbler.”
Ralph is making out big time watching birds in Little Switzerland. Clearly, I picked the wrong career.
I talk to Mary from Pittsburg, a retired geology professor. She says, “I thought I met everyone on the tour. What’s your name?”
I say, “Kathy. I’m not on the tour. The sandwiches don’t work out for me, so…I’d be out of luck for lunch, hahaha.”
Mary tells me she got into birdwatching when she met her boyfriend, Jim two years ago. Mary says, “Jim’s over there. He’s wearing a colorful flower shirt. Jim wears that shirt whenever he goes birdwatching because he thinks it attracts birds.”
Mary tells me that she and Jim traveled to Costa Rica and stayed in a treehouse. They saw a quetzal, a rare bird. I tell Mary I’ve never heard of a quetzal.
Mary says, “They have irredescent green wings and a red belly. Stunning birds. You have to go during the dry season, and wake up very early in the morning to see them. Jim and I were so exited to see a quetzal that we popped open a bottle of prosecco at 10 a.m. 10 a.m! Can you imagine drinking at 10 a.m?
I say, “I’ve done that, maybe two or ten times. No big deal. Although, it did not involve seeing a rare bird. It involved nothing. Just a hankering for a drink in the morning.”
I enjoy birds very much, but I don’t know enough about them to write down the species I see, except for cardinals, blue jays, crows, seagulls and bald eagles. That’s the extent of my list. And, maybe, “It was big and several shades of brown – who knows?”
That evening, my husband and I and our five and seven year old children are sitting with my in-laws in the living room of the mountain house. It’s nearing bedtime for the kids. My mother in-law says, “I remember the time we were driving up here, and we saw a man standing on the deck. We pulled into the driveway, walked around the property, and he was nowhere to be seen. Another time, I was washing dishes, and a man ran across the porch. He was wearing a plaid shirt. I ran outside, and he was gone. I am convinced this house is haunted.”
I turn to my husband with a look of oh my god, did she just say that?
Then, my mother in-law says, “Do you smell the bear? I can smell it. It must be very close to the house.”
I say, “Okay. Bedtime for the kids is cancelled. Super.”
The next day the family crew visits Conley, an eighty-some year old native of Highland County that’s a neighbor and good friend of my in-laws.
Conley has a dialect like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It sounds like a cross between a cajun from the bayou and a hillbilly mountaineer.
We arrive at Conley’s modest ranch house. There are salt and pepper shakers everywhere. On open shelves that I believe Conley built to display his impressive collection, on end tables, on the wide ledge of the den window.
Conley tells us his collection has reached the five thousand mark.
I use the bathroom, and there are several rattan wall shelves that are filled with salt and pepper shakers. I am obsessed with all of the dusting they must require.
We go out to the yard.This is what my husband and I think Conley says, “The yotes got my shep.”
We nod and smile, wondering what the heck Conley is saying.
Conley is pointing to the field. “Yotes got my shep, yes they did, yes they did.”
Margaret, who understands Conley much better than us says, “The coyotes got your sheep? Oh, no!”
Margaret often invited her birding friends to the mountain house. During one of gatherings the birders say, “Margaret, come here and check out this snake.”
Margaret says, “All I see is that log over there.” They say, “That’s the snake.” It was a timber rattlesnake. After that incident, in addition to the ghost stories, I decide I don’t like the mountain house.
The birdwatchers attend Margaret’s memorial service at the mountain house after she passed away. We spread Margaret’s ashes in the flower garden. The ashes are in a heavy duty ziplock bag marked “Margaret” in bold letters with a sharpie, which may have not have been my choice for a memorial service.
During the reception, I have an in-depth conversation with Shirley, a pleasant middle-aged woman who is wearing a t-shirt that says, “Tufted Titmouse” with an illustration of the bird, near her, um…
Shirley tells me she finally saved enough money to buy the eight-thousand dollar binoculars hanging around her neck. I nearly spit out my punch. I say, “Shirley, you’re kidding me. No pun intended.”
Shirley goes on to tell me about all of the birds she has seen. I win points for my dutiful attention during the thirty-some minute conversation.
Meanwhile, the other guests are roaming the deck, and, every so often someone says something like, “Pileated woodpecker! Eleven o’clock.” Then, the binoculars all go up in harmony.
A guy pulls out a mini notepad from the pocket of his shirt, and writes something down. Maybe,
“Pileated woodpecker.”Or, maybe “Missed the Pileated woodpecker, but Shirley probably spotted it with her fancy binoculars.”
After the memorial service, Margaret’s husband put the mountain house on Airbnb. The first review said, “Very nice house. Great views. Great birdwatching. However, the negative is that there was a large ziplock baggie on the kitchen counter that appeared to have someone’s ashes inside.
Not good!”
The Airbnb did not take off after that review.
My family is vacationing at the site of the bird count on the Chesapeake Bay. I am not counting birds, however, I gaze at a pair of osprey that perch on the same limb of a sprawling pine tree every day. They perch there for hours, appearing regal and peaceful.
I do not have high-falutin’ binocolars, only my naked eyes.
A flock of crows surround the osprey, cawing to chase them away. The osprey stand steadfast and upright, not bothered by the crows. Eventually, the crows fly away. The scene gives me hope. It reminds me that nature mimics life.
I miss seeing the birdwatchers. They are a nice group of folks who love our feathered friends.
The nice birdwatchers are always welcome to the mountain house to look for a golden-winged warbler. I’ll sit on the porch with the hummingbirds. Binoculars are not required.

Jeff Bunn interview

My husband has played bass with a number of local bands ranging from rock n’ roll to eclectic world music. We know a lot of musicians, and therefore, I know how talented and interesting these musical humans are.  Interviewing the musicians has been an incredibly interesting project.

Richmond has been the launching point for a huge number of musicians and bands that have been really successful: GWAR, NO BS Brass Band, Always August, Avail, Plunky and Oneness, Mad Skillz, Bio Ritmo, Susan Greenbaum, The Good Guys, Rebby Sharp, Pippin Barnett, Reggie Pace and so many others. Richmond is a creative hotbed of artists. Virginia Commonwealth University is certainly a big player in the artistic scene. They have a world-class music and fine arts program. But, I think Richmond is authentically creative in a grassroots way. RVA is a great music town! Up there with Austin!  

My first interview is Jeff Bunn, bass player for The Brides of Funkenstein, Parliament Funkadelic and Parlet 

 

“P-Funk is an old and fluid organization. It’s almost like a revolving door, you know?”

“I came out with the Bride of Funkenstein. Bootsy (Collins) did the record and I replaced him on the tour. That was a dream come true.”

I ask Jeff if he ever hung out with Bootsy.

“Not so much. The last time I was out with George Clinton, we were at the Apollo. We got together. It’s funny. When you’re in the family it’s like you don’t really need to be talking to each other a lot. Whenever we’re together we’re great because each of us is like okay, it’s great to see you. See you later.”

“Yeah, but it’s interesting. With the guys I get to be to be the kid. You know, it’s like I’m still young.”

I say, “You were young when you played with P-Funk, right?”

“Yeah, I was seventeen.”

I ask him when he moved to Richmond.

“Nineties. My wife’s mother was ill. We were commuting back and forth. We decided to move here to be closer to my mother in-law.”

Jeff currently lives in Richmond. He was born and raised in Baltimore.

“I tend to be an open book about everything. And not have any particular agenda. And what I’ve learned is – I learned it from George (Clinton) – he’s going to always call it back to himself, and the music and the project, right?”

“It’s interesting being at this age, and learning so many different things about the business, which is a pain in the butt. But I’ve rediscovered my love of music, which is just so joyous. But the music business. Should I use the word weaponized? You know, I was listening to some NPR this morning. They were doing mostly Latino Mexican music. They were talking to this one band, and the first thing that jumped out at me was longevity. They got together as a band twenty-four years ago out of Mexico. And you just don’t hear of that anymore in the music industry.”

“My first question comes across Facebook. What was the first concert you ever saw? That made me think about it. I was on my dad’s shoulders, it was late at night. He took me to this club. We’re in this club and it’s nothing but joy. In the back of the room is a band. The club says to my father, “you can’t bring that baby in here. I remember the vibe, the spirit of the moment. It was just love. It was pure, pure joy.”

“Later, I asked my father who the band was. He said it was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.”

“My parents were really powerful, powerful people. My father had issues. He was an alcoholic. Let me tell you about this guy. He ran away from home when he was fifteen to go into the Korean War. So that tells you what was going on at home. As a consequence, he was an alcoholic. Alcoholics are abusive. But he was a hell of a guy. I mean, he was self-employed as an electrician, and had his own TV repair shop and took care of two families. He never missed a birthday. Never missed a holiday. I give him his props.”

“I think back to the seventies and eighties. We used to make copies of cassettes. And each time you make a copy, it became worse. I think that’s how we are as a species. I think we become weaker, and just more corrupt through each generation. The things my dad withstood, I was like dude…”

“The guy that hired me to play for my church. Craig Matthew, this guy’s out of Detroit and the absolute cream of the crop minister of music. He and I were talking one day, and he said, ‘JB I tried to cut my grass the other day and I couldn’t finish it.’ He was saying he started to think about the generation that came up before him and what they were able to endure.”

“Like James Brown. You know, these guys, George Clinton. You know, those guys are on a different level. I mean, robust is not even a word to describe it. The last time I was out with George in 2010 with Funkadelic I had two goals. It was so physically taxing. It was hard in the no rules. George called up, hey, you’re going to be going out this weekend, right? Well, you may not know when, how or where you’re going. No idea when you’re going to return. So you’re sitting at home waiting for travel information. And then next thing you know, somebody’s at the front door to pick you up – c‘mon we’re going to Australia.”

“We went to Australia. We leave out of Newark, New Jersey. There’s a problem with the plane. It won’t start. So now we’re all scared, do we get off the plane? No. They’re going to fix the plane and we going to take it to Australia. We go to LA and we’ve missed the connection.  The next day we’re playing on the west coast of Australia. Now we’re playing catch up. By the time we get to Australia, which is a seventeen hour flight, we’ve got to fly another three, four more hours to the west coast, and play that night. So that’s how that tour started. When we get back to the states and get back to Newark I’m thinking great, we’re done. I’m going home to see my kid. Oh no I’m not. I’m going to San Antonio, Texas to play South by Southwest. Get in the back of van. Not a tour bus. That’s what we got in from Newark to Texas after twenty-four hours of flying. That’s just one example. And it’s nothing for these guys. They’ve been doing this for thirty years.”

“They call me and ask me to do a gig in Tennessee. They fly me to Knoxville and I’m thinking this is pretty sexy – fly me out and fly me home.  So they pick me up at the airport, go straight to the venue, do a quick sound check. Do the show. I’m going back to the room to go back home. Nooooo. Get on the bus. You’re going to Denver.”

I say, “How did you feel about that?”

“It doesn’t matter how I felt about it. This is the job. It’s a mafia thing. This is the business we’re in.”

I ask Jeff what it’s like hanging out with George Clinton.

“George and I go back to when I was a kid. Seventeen. I knew George in the heyday. I’ve known George in the hard days. The nineties. He’s been over to my house. Our relationship has grown and changed. My thing has always been relationships, regardless of what the business is doing and we may fight, we may not like whatever. But, I’m still going to maintain a healthy loving relationship with you. Right now, there’s a lot of angst within the situation. People feel like they got slighted.”

“It’s the problem with George Clinton and the music business at large. This is where I get into conversations with my Funkadelic family. They say George ripped me off for this and that. And they say they hate George. I say I can hate him too but if it wasn’t for George I wouldn’t have you.”

“There are quite a few tunes that I have contributed musically to that I haven’t received the credit rights. He doesn’t legally have to give me writer’s credit. This is a work for hire. It’s a legal clause in the copyright law. I don’t think it’s fair. My personal perception is because I grew up in a time when people wrote lyrics and music and both of you got credit. My perception is I should get credit for writing the music even though it’s not pen and paper. Hopefully, some things will get fixed before I die.”

I ask what songs.

“Freak of the Week. Mother May I. I’m Holding You Responsible. Michelle.”

I mention how much I love Freak of the Week.  I ask Jeff how he got hooked up with Funkadelic.

He tells me a fellow musician in Baltimore hooked him up with the band in nineteen seventy-eight. “Two years with Funkadelic. Things are crazy. I join the air force. I was going to do thirty years. God had other plans.  I came out of the air force after four years. Came to Richmond in ninety-four. Went back out with George for two years. It was crazy and I said that’s enough of that.”

I say, “Can you elaborate about crazy? Heavy drugs?”

“For George In the seventies it was a lot of cocaine. It was sex, drugs and rock and roll. In the nineties it was coke and free-basing crack. I remember when I quit in the seventies. Sheila, one of the brides (Brides of Funkenstein) called me and said Cherokee, you can’t quit now, we just got Sly. I say I’m not fooling with y’all. Come to find out Sly was smoking crack too. It was crazy.”

“Fortunately for me, I think God has given me an immune system to where I see that stuff, and it’s like, you know, you can’t do that stuff.”

I ask him about Parlet.

“We had two girl bands. Parlet is the female version of Parliament. The Brides of Funkenstein is the female version of Funkadelic. I was the bass player for the Brides of Dr. Funkenstein. We released two albums. The live album from the Howard Theatre is slamming. You should hear that.”

“My dream was to play for Bootsy since I was a kid. I took Bootsy’s place with the Horny Horns. I played with the Rubber Band. Maceo. All the Bootsy folks. So my dream had come true.

I mention how much I love Maceo.

“We have Prince to thank for Maceo still being with us. Maceo had gotten very ill and Prince paid all of his medical expenses and got him healthy again.”

“I’ve got a great Prince story. We were out in nineties. We just got back from Europe. Looking back on it now I wonder why didn’t connect the dots. I get a Fed-Ex from Paisley Park. I wonder what is this? I don’t know what’s going on.  We fly to Minneapolis. On the tour, we have a gig to do in Minneapolis. I’m thinking we’re going to go to Minneapolis to do a gig. When we get to the airport, uncharacteristic of Funkadelic, we have someone there to meet us. They say okay,  all of y’all go this way. We get in a van and they start driving and we think, okay, we’re going to the hotel, right? No, they took us to Paisley Park. Oh, wow. Whoa, wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait, wait, what are we doing?”

“We don’t know what’s going on. I’m sitting there putting all this makeup on. So what are we doing? What song are we doing? Okay, let’s go. Let’s go to the stage. Anyway, what happened was, we were there to soundstage and we’re doing this cut that I’ve never heard of. Next thing you know some really hot chick comes up to me and sticks a mic in my face and says who are you?  I’m kind of shy. I say leave me alone, I’m working. And you know, she came to me. She says, have you seen Prince? I say, leave me alone. You’re scaring me. I look over to George like you wanna fix this?”

“We get to the hotel. Lo and behold Prince is having a fall special called the Rise Divine. And we were part of that. So, someone says, ‘Hey I saw you on TV with Prince.’”

“Yeah, I love that guy. He was scary great. And I think he was taken from us much too soon. The first time I saw Prince was 1979. We were playing the LA Coliseum. It was us, Rick James. I don’t know who else. Keep in mind I’m nineteen so I’m kind of overwhelmed.  We’re headed down to the stage and I see this cat who looks like a Funkadelic and he’s being escorted off the stage. It’s him and this big, big white guy. After years past, I realized that was Prince being escorted off the stage. They didn’t want anybody on the stage when we went on. He had cut-offs on. He was looking really funky.”

“I’m backstage and I’m really awestruck. Then I see Larry Graham. Turns out all the Graham  Central Station guys are back stage. Our guitar player, Michael Hampton is talking to Hershall Kennedy.  On the floor are all of our gold records for Uncle Jam wants you. I say, wow, there’s my gold record. I should take my gold records. Then I think to myself, no, don’t take the records. Let them present it to you. I never got it. I saw it but I didn’t get it. Things went south with the record company so we didn’t get the record.”

“When I left Georgia in two-thousand fourteen a guy comes to the house and asks me if I want the gold record. I say, ‘what are you talking about?’ I had the blues. I was depressed. Then I got the record.”

“When you think something is done, and you’re going to move on to the next phase in your life, but you’re not done. I thought I was going to be in the Air Force for thirty years but here I am still playing for Funkadelic. But, I’m thankful. Very, very, thankful.”

“I have an eight year old son. His birthday is Tuesday. I love him more than chocolate cake. Life is good.