Short version: Read Michael Perry. Listen to Tim Eriksen. (specific recommendations in comments)
Within the course of a week, I had a rare opportunity to meet two of my heroes. I grew infatuated with each of them throughout a year in South Carolina- that first year teaching.
I am a sucker for old time mountain music. The sound of a swiss immigrant yodeling Appalachian love songs is enough to cause me to stop, drop and roll.
Here is Tim Eriksen singing in San Francisco in 2009.
Throughout the last six years I've marinated in THAT sound. Last week, I finally had the chance to hear him in person. He performed most of the material from Josh Billings' Voyage with trio de pumpkintown. Stephen Colbert played the Irish drum.
He is the favorite uncle of the shape note singing revival. I'll be attending the NE convention this fall, because of him. A Sacred Harp hymnal sits on my coffee table (opened to no. 410), because of him. I shaved my head bald and dress like a pirate, because of him.
The harmonies of the Sacred Harp scrape against the grain of conventional counterpoint. If Bach is the warm morning sun, slipping through the blinds, Sacred Harp is a penetrating wind howling through a moonlit bog.
I stumbled upon Michael Perry during a first date. She was a certified long term sub for a kindergarten teacher. We met for coffee on a Saturday at a bookshop. Bookshop dates mean showing up hours early to peruse. I found Michael Perry's Population 485 in the new release stack as I walked in. An hour later, my date arrived to find me distracted and covered in coffee.
Perry's books brought me into the life I was living as a young bachelor out on my own for the first time. The tired sounds of Seinfeld seasons 1-9 were replaced by the brewing of coffee, the pen on the paper, the feet in the grass.
I was thrilled to meet him in Delaware, OH on his book tour. I was second in line for the signing and my breath was mule-like, at best. All I could muster upon reaching him was: "Your work makes me feel alive. Thank you." I scanned his eyes for a grimace in reaction to my livestock breath, only to receive a smile and a twinkle. What a guy.