Mosaic graves near Fortin de las Flores, Mexico, from the book “FUNEBRE" Maurycy Gomulicki/Jeronimo Hagerman, Editorial Diamantina, Mexico, 2006.
While spending time in Tennessee, my priority is usually record hunting. However, Paul’s influence has not been lost on me, and I couldn’t resist pulling into Spring Hill Cemetery, knowing it was the resting place for the likes of Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, Earl Scruggs, and, of course, John Hartford.
My initial interest in John Hartford (December 30, 1937 – June 4, 2001) was rooted in the many dollar bin sightings of his albums I had over the years. At some point I took a chance and scooped his 1968 effort, Housing Project, an off kilter not-quite-country-not-quite-bluegrass-not-quite-folk album that gets a bit goofy and even leans into some psychedelic directions at times. Actually, that pretty much describes much of Hartford’s music career, a massive potpourri of everything Americana. His eclectic approach to music is probably what prevented him from becoming a household name, but his musical genius was recognized by his peers (folks such as Chet Atkins, Kris Kristofferson, and Mickey Newbury) and the music industry, as evidenced by his three Grammy awards.
Hartford started off as a banjo player and was heavily influenced by the playing of Earl Scruggs. He was also influenced by life on the river and seems to have been a kind of Mark Twain type of character, even going as far as earning his steamboat operator’s license. Over the course of his career, Hartford became adept at guitar and fiddle and often appeared live as his own one man band. Hartford’s main claim to fame is his song “Gentle on my Mind”, one of the most covered songs in country music history. Glen Campbell made it into a major hit, and the likes of Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings also recorded their takes. Fortunately for Hartford, his rights to the song made him thousands of dollars every year and helped bankroll his free spirit lifestyle and musical explorations.
When the Byrds decided they were going to go full dive into making a country album, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, the band came out to Nashville to record and enlisted the services of Hartford. He can be found all over the album, playing guitar, banjo, and fiddle. His playing is pretty integral to the band’s sound. I can’t imagine his appearance on the record won him any new friends in Nashville. After all, the Byrds were vehemently derided by the city’s establishment for their forays into country music.
John Hartford was never considered one of country music’s outlaws, but he was certainly one of Nashville’s rebels. And while Hartford was quite untraditional, it was done with a respect for, and a nod to, Nashville traditions. Before he died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2001, he was a mover and shaker at Opryland and worked hard to keep the spirit of Americana alive through his music, something you can hear in his work for Ken Burns’ Civil War.
The dollar bins aren’t as full of John Hartford as they used to be, and I’m hoping this is indicative of growing interest in his music. His work deserves the extra chance to be solidified into our country’s music lore.
- Mike Mannix (guest writer. Mike is a high school teacher and graduate level record collector, who was recently honored as teacher of the year in West Contra Costa Unified School District and once upon a time ran a record label called Ellington Records.)
I meet my old friend Thrasher- Miguel Angel Cortes- at the end of el Chopo, Mexico City’s youth market. A punk band is playing, and remnants of this market’s “tianguis” beginnings can be seen here. Against a backdrop of electrical lines, vendors sell Anarchist zines, DVDs, patches. People carry books and records to sell or trade. Thrasher helped start this market in the 80’s, and it has gone through many transformations since its informal barter and trade exchanges, to the Doc Martens, imitation Joy Division hoodies, and skateboards sold under the tents today. It is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere, but as Thrasher tells me, it’s boring today, so we decide to go to the closest cemetery. He brings a few people from el Chopo and we walk in the rain.
Thrasher takes us to the cemetery for famous people, La Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres. He used to come here when he was 15, sit and read Lovecraft at night. It was quiet then, but it’s even more desolate now. The government built this cemetery in 1872 as a museum for people who have made significant cultural, scientific, military or civic contributions to Mexico. But then, Thrasher told me, the neighborhood got dangerous, drug addicts and homeless people scared the tourists, so now it’s empty. The only other people at the cemetery are guards and some junkies outside the gates. Few people visit, and some of the most famous people from Mexico’s history go unnoticed, like Benito Juarez.
Benito Juarez was important during the U.S.- Mexican War, in the mid-1800’s. He was Zapotec from peasant origins and became the president of Mexico for 5 terms- but a time interrupted by war, fleeing cities, fighting Napolean, resisting and then expelling the French occupation. Considered father of Mexico’s liberal modern civil society and as a progressive reformer, he is remembered for his fight for democracy, equal rights for indigenous populations, antipathy towards religion and the Catholic church in particular, and being market-driven, a freemason and remarkably short. We sit around his tomb for a while, and then decide to go get some food.
The cemetery is just up the street from Centro, cars and people, and the sounds of the city are blaring just outside of the empty square. The cemetery feels out of time and space, it definitely is a place to rest.
- Nina (guest writer. Nina played in a band called Rings, organized for Occupy Wall Street, and is working on a film about jainism. Author not pictured.)
"One of the main reasons I came back to Mexico is because I’ve found freedom and democracy here, something I never found in the United States. I was branded a Negro in the States and had to act accordingly. Everything I did, including playing ball, was regulated by my color. They wouldn’t even give me a chance in the big leagues because I was a Negro, yet they accepted every other nationality under the sun."
- Willie “El Diablo” Wells to Wendell Smith, 1944
Willie Wells was nicknamed “El Diablo" for his relentless play, but his relentlessness wasn’t limited to play on the diamond; he spent his entire career doggedly pursuing the pay and respect he deserved. The Devil chased the game all around North America, eventually earning him a unique Triple Crown of sorts - Wells was eventually inducted into the Mexican, Cuban and American baseball halls of fame. Bill James deemed him the 2nd best shortstop to play in the Negro Leagues, and the 86th best player in the history of baseball.
FACTS: Wells played in the Negro Leagues from 1924-1949, winning numerous batting titles and setting the single-season home run record at a time well before shortstops were supposed to hit for much power. He spent his winters in Latin America, starring in the Mexican and Cuban Winter Leagues for 30 seasons. In 1946, Wells found himself snubbed for selection on a Negro all-star team touring Venezuela for a rookie named Jackie Robinson, and the following season, as Jackie transitioned to second base (the Dodgers already had Pee Wee Reese at short), Willie was brought in to tutor him on the art of turning the double play (another nickname for Willie was “Shakespeare of Shortstops”). LEGEND: Wells claimed to be the first to wear a batting helmet, donning a construction helmet to the plate after being hit in the head with a pitch; Wells replaced racist and fellow Texan Rogers Hornsby as the manager of a Mexico ball club, following Hornsby’s demand that no black players play for a club that he managed.
El Diablo got his start with the Austin Black Senators (1923-1924), a little-known minor Negro League team that lasted from 1910s-1950s. To celebrate the local history, Austin artist Tim Kerr painted a mural of Willie Wells next door to Wells’ boyhood home in South Austin. On a recent visit to Austin, I had the honor of visiting Wells’ grave along with Kerr and his wife Beth. Wells was originally buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin after his 1989 death before being reinterred in Texas State Cemetery in 2004; he was inducted into Cooperstown in 1997.
Meredith “Murdock” Hunter barely knew his Native American father, and was raised by his African-American mother Altha May Anderson and his older sister Dixie Ward. Ward’s husband died in an electrical accident a month before the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Hunter immediately assumed a fatherly role with her three young children. On December 6, 1969, Hunter went from Berkeley to Altamont with his white girlfriend Patty Bredahoft, and according to his sister, he brought a gun in case he encountered any racial violence.
Alan Passaro, then 21, had been arrested for selling weed and for theft five months before Altamont. When he was hired (in the loosest sense of the word) as a member of the security force for the concert, he had only been a Hells Angel for one month. He was also out on bail, awaiting sentencing for the weed and theft charges.
Almost everyone knows what happened on that day. A Hells Angel (Passaro) stabbed a concert-goer (Hunter) to death, ushering in the end of the Age of Aquarius.
Passaro was acquitted of murder in 1971 (and a cold case was closed in 2005, when Alameda County Sheriffs debunked the possibility of a 2nd stabber), but was in and out of prison for the rest of his life, including going in on RICO charges along with Sonny Barger in 1979. In 1985, one year after his release from prison, Passaro was found dead in a reservoir with $10,000 in his pocket.
After his death, Murdock’s schizophrenic mother Altha suffered a nervous breakdown. Though she settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the Rolling Stones for $10,000, Hunter’s grave in Vallejo, California remained unmarked. Instead, Altha turned a spare bedroom into a graveyard of sorts for her dead children - she had fake grass and stepping stones, and filled the room with flowers and pictures of her children who had passed away. After years of being surrounded by death (two others died a few years before her), Altha herself passed away in the first decade of the 2000s.
On a balmy Sunday spring afternoon, old friends of mine from the Toronto band Fucked Up had reservations for our annual fancy dinner date - this time at the venerable Thomas Keller’s California restaurant The French Laundry. We decided to stop and look for Meredith Hunter’s final resting place on our way up to Yountville. I had the plot location for his grave, but that proved to be a dead end as none of the plot names were marked at the cemetery, so the four of us split up and wandered fairly aimlessly, eyes to the ground.
Just as I was about to throw in the towel, Josh (not pictured above) showed me that he had found a video online - Sam Green’s documentary short lot 63, grave c - that showed people standing around Meredith Hunter’s grave location. At the time of Green’s filming, there was no headstone, but from the footage, we were able to find the location. Since the documentary made the round at festivals back in 2006, people were moved to raise funds to get a headstone placed for Hunter. Now that the grave is marked, we can make sure that Meredith Hunter is never forgotten.
Iosu Expósito was the guitarist and back-up vocalist in Eskorbuto. The greatest band to come out of the Basque country and the reason I got into Spanish punk. They are one of the most influential bands in the Spanish and Latino punk scene. Their lyrics were crude and political.
When I found out Criaturas would be playing in Pais Vasco I made our driver E-dooh take me to his tomb. When we got there I made sure to leave a Todo Destruido sticker along side all the other graffiti written on the glass of his tomb and pour one out.
Iosu began a treatment to get off heroin and got really weak because of it. After years of being addicted to heroin he finally got clean but died a year later of a heroin overdose. The anniversary of his 1992 death is at the end of this month, May 31.
Here’s a heroin PSA he did while trying to get clean.
- Dru (guest writer. Check out her band Criaturas)
Fucked Up - “Sun Glass” directed by Andy Capper & Mike Haliechuk
Cemetery footage in this music video was shot in beautiful Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. This cemetery was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and a number of people of interest are buried there: Mac Dre, the Black Dahlia, Glenn Burke, Bobby Hutton, Marcus Foster, and many more. Also worth noting is that the scenes filmed in a house in this video were shot in a home owned by living legend and Oakland native Rickey Henderson.
Fucked Up will be featured in an upcoming Cemlurk post, so stay tuned.
Terry Dean Worrell, 40-year resident of Dallas, Texas, died on April 26th at 9:39 p.m., from lung cancer. He died at home, surrounded by his wife, son, and daughter. It was warm outside. Terry hated the cold.
Terry was born February 20th, 1942, to Charles William Worrell and Elsie Marie Patton in Austin, Texas.
He attended high school in Orange, Texas, and later graduated from McCallum High School in Austin. He went on to Southwest Texas State on a baseball scholarship. He played second base, and from all accounts could turn a double play like nobody’s business. Terry was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, and was in touch with most of his frat brothers until he died.
Terry left college to join the Navy and was eventually sent to Philippines, where he played ball during the Vietnam War. He was a payroll officer; E6 petty officer first class and left the Navy with an honorable discharge. He returned to Texas and worked as a bank teller while he completed his degree and graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
Terry worked for Dallas Power & Light until he retired in 1994. He was a cameraman and a video editor in their media department. He loved his job.
Terry is survived by wife Meredith Louise Worrell, of Dallas; daughter Kerry Elizabeth Yates, of New York City; and son Logan Dean Worrell, of Austin; brothers Pat Murphy Worrell of Sugarland and Charles William Worrell Jr., of Vermont; along with dozens of nieces and nephews; and of course lifelong artistic collaborator Snidely Whipsnade
He loved reading, Texas Rangers baseball, golf, the Everly Brother, and his family. He hated long lines, the cold, bullies, and the month of August.
John Muir’s grave is in a small random fenced-in area in between some people’s backyards in Martinez, California. Somehow the randomness befits such an iconoclast, but mostly in its lack of ceremony - regardless of where the Father of the National Park System’s body lies, he continues to have many stories to tell. Those outside of California may only recognize him as the dude on the California quarter, and those within California may only know him as the namesake for the redwood grove on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, but Muir was a one of a kind, a mountain prophet, and he personally changed the American experience.
Muir moved to the States from Scotland before his teen years and in his two years of university, he studied random classes that fit his interest in nature but never allowed him to move past consideration as a first year student. While building wagon wheels to pay the bills in 1867, an accident blinded him - but Muir knew he had too much to see in this world to let something like that slow him down. With the support of his friend Catharine Merrill, Muir overcame his blindness and then set off on a thousand mile walk across the United States - the real beginning to a life full of exploration and eye opening and boundary pushing. In Muir’s words: “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.”
And so the mountain prophet found his calling. Muir founded the Sierra Club, was responsible for the designation of Yosemite as a National Park, and essentially started the environmental movement in the United States. Theodore Roosevelt called a night camping with Muir in Yosemite in 1903 “the grandest day of my life.”
Muir’s grave is notably simple and Muir’s character was remarkably complex, and that’s a piece of what makes Cemlurking so consistently interesting for me. A grave is a lasting physical representation of a person, but there are no rules about how a person is represented. A crazy looking stone doesn’t necessarily mean you were a badass, while a simple one doesn’t mean you were a bore. Just as Muir was able to see things around him without vision, it’s on us to peel back the first layer, not take things at face value and understand and appreciate what exists all around us.