Ghostwood Farm


Beyond belief.
August 24, 2018, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Jump, and I’ll catch you, said the person who wrote it on the dock, and I believed them or, at least, I think I did. But now, I’m not sure, because the water is quite cold, and my legs are growing heavy, and I never felt any hands reach out for me. And I’m stuck with the thought, as I drift down the river, do I blame the writer for lying, or myself for believing? We both know whose fault it is, and we both know who I blame.

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…and the drummer is a Methodist.
August 19, 2018, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was involved in a conversation earlier this week with two new friends, one who is very young and one who is about my age. The conversation revolved around music, specifically the song “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. That took us to Johnny Cash which took us to the inimitable Nick Cave. I have thought quite a bit about that arc today and wanted to capture it in terms of how it affected my life.

I start with this: Memory is a funny thing. (As an aside, Malcolm Gladwell has a brilliant series on the nature of memory on his Revisionist History podcast that everyone should listen to.) In researching this timeline a little bit, one of the Immutable Facts of My Memory was shown to be dead wrong (I’ll get to that later), so I will only say that I will record these events as I remember them. These memories may not be True, but they will be Accurate insofar as they are what my faulty mind tells me happened.

I. In which Adam meets Trent Reznor (figuratively).

I first heard Nine Inch Nails in Nancy Murray’s car, a cassette of Pretty Hate Machine. At first, I blew it off as “techno”. I was a metal guy then; this was before Chris Baran and Scott Pazera blew my mind with records like Nothing’s Shocking, records that fundamentally changed how I looked at music forever. I saw the first Lollapalooza that year, at which NIN was the first band to perform. Also included was just a ridiculous lineup: Rollins Band, Ice-T and Body Count, Butthole Surfers(!), and of course, the Last Hurrah of Jane’s Addiction (though we didn’t know it was their last hurrah at the time). Nine Inch Nails still didn’t really resonate with me until I got to college that fall.

By the time I was doing my first solo radio shows (fall of 1991), Pretty Hate Machine was in pretty heavy rotation for me. By now I had recognized the importance and appeal of “industrial lite,” music that wasn’t quite as imposing as some of the stuff coming out of Chicago’s Wax Trax! label (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult) but still angry and primarily electronic: Music that pissed you off while you danced to it. It took three years for NIN’s followup EP, broken, which is one of the finest EPs ever recorded. The hate and vitriol on that record, inspired by an ugly breakup with TVT Records, as I understand it, are palpable, and set the stage for The Downward Spiral, where our story really begins.

II. In which Adam cuts his hair and dislocates his shoulder.

The conversation last night brought to light the fact that my new friend and martial arts instructor was at the same NIN concert that I attended on 12 November 1994, in Louisville. The night before, I had been listening to what is still one of my favorite records: Cop Shoot Cop’s Interference. “Any Day Now” came on, and Tod A. sang “One of these days / I’m gonna shave off all my hair…” and at 2am, I said, yeah, and I went in the bathroom and shaved off my very long ponytail.

From this…Mewithhair

To this. Funny how I look happier with hair…and younger…and skinnier…note the Nothing’s Schocking t-shirt.

The Bird.jog

So we drive from Terre Haute to Louisville. Waiting for the first act to start (The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow), sitting on the floor, the music on the PA was David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. A cute girl hit on me. After Jim Rose, Marilyn Manson hit the stage. Honestly, of the whole night, I remember snippets: the Bowie record on the PA, the cute girl, and…dislocating my shoulder.

I couldn’t tell you what song NIN was playing, and it wasn’t really a pit–there were too many people for that–but the crowd was swaying in a way that prevented independent motion. The crowd swayed right, everyone went right. At one point, someone tried to sway left as everyone else went right, slammed into my right shoulder just wrong, and popped it out. Excruciating pain. More importantly, the crowd was heading right, hard, and I started to fall. I was thinking, I can’t catch myself, I can’t move my arm: If I fall, I’m going to get trampled to death. Just then, the crowd to my right surged left, and someone slammed into me again. Excruciating pain. But it re-seated my shoulder! I was saved!

III. In which Adam is personally introduced to the fallibility of memory.

I have always told this story in this way: We attended the Louisville show, and the following night, we attended the Indianapolis show. But that is not the Truth. The Truth is, we attended the Indy show two full months later, on 22 January 1995. We were late and got there as Marilyn Manson was leaving the stage. I remember essentially nothing else about the show, and I recall my roommate and I roundly agreed that the Louisville show was far better.

After The Downward Spiral, I never bought another NIN record. More important music was on my radar by then: Morphine. Fugazi. Soul Coughing. fIREHOSE. Archers of Loaf. I was past the Angst and looking for the Noise.

IV. In which Adam finally gets to the damn point.

So my young friend was talking about the song “Hurt” last night. I think she said her marching band is performing it, but I didn’t actually catch that part of the conversation. She indicated that it was a NIN song that Johnny Cash made famous, at which point I had to disabuse her of that notion: After all, “Hurt” was a pretty big hit for ol’ Trent, back in the mid-90s. I never liked it, myself.

Nine Inch Nails has a couple of different approaches to songwriting. There’s the brilliant, angry writing (“Sin,” “Wish,” “Burn“), and then there’s the Smiths-channeling whimpering (“Something I Can Never Have,” “Hurt”). I skip the latter. I’ll go straight to The Smiths for self-loathing whinery: At least they had Johnny Marr.

However, that got us talking about the series of covers that Johnny Cash did late in his career, under the prodding of Rick Rubin. “Hurt” is probably the most famous but it’s nothing like the best. He also covered other songs I don’t particularly like: Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is the one that jumps out immediately. BUT, but, he did some absolutely brilliant covers.

My two favorite covers of his are two of my favorite songs by the original artists. It’s hard to pick a more quintessential Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song than “The Mercy Seat,” and Cash’s cover is amazing. (For an even better version, check out Nick Cave’s version from the live album Live Seeds.)

However, Cash’s best cover of this period is his version of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.” It’s pure magic, especially when you know the original. It’s the best action one can take when covering a song: He has changed it so that it is still recognizable, but he put his own unique stamp on it.

That’s all I have. Give them a listen if you’re not familiar.



Iron head.
July 12, 2018, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had I have been learning tae kwon do for almost two years now, and hapkido for several months. Most people are familiar with tae kwon do–if you took martial arts as a kid, it was probably tae kwon do. Hapkido is a very different kind of martial art. It is, as is tae kwon do, Korean in origin. However, where tae kwon do is fairly formal and structured, hapkido is more about flow: Less about striking (though there is certainly a large component of striking) and more about redirection, joint locks, throws. I think of hapkido as a more practical defensive martial art, and tae kwon do as more of a sport. Many of the techniques translate, of course, and tae kwon do can be formidable. But everything in hapkido is designed to protect the practitioner and neutralize the attacker.

At our school, belt progression is as follows:

White
Yellow
Orange
Green
Purple
Blue
Brown
Red
Red/Black
Black

The time spent at each rank increases past green, as techniques and forms become more difficult. I earned my brown belt in tae kwon do on 9 June, and I anticipate, if all goes well, earning my red belt in October. In hapkido, I earned my orange belt in June.

II.

I have had a recurring nightmare for as long as I have been an adult. In it, a “bad guy” or guys are chasing me and/or my family. Best I can remember, in this dream I am always armed with my S&W 4006 pistol–never a shotgun, never a rifle, never a revolver, and never, best as I can remember, unarmed. The location frequently changes, though it is often the house where I grew up. I shoot the bad guys, I hit the bad guys, but they don’t stop coming. In the most recent iteration (before Tuesday night), the single chaser would go down, dead, and then come back to life.

I have recently come to believe that this dream reflects a general lack of confidence on my part. No matter what I do, no matter how proficient I am, I can’t do the thing I most need to do. I came to this realization because in the past few months, the dream has changed.

III.

The hapkido classes are much smaller than the tae kwon do classes. The school only allows adults to participate, since it can be so dangerous in the hands of those with less self-control (as well as being dangerous to developing joints). In the classes I typically attend, there are usually only 2-4 students, and sometimes it is just the instructor and me. My most common training partner is a 2nd dan black belt who is a bit larger than me. He is…intimidating. He is also extremely knowledgeable and generous with his knowledge and kind and genuinely, I think, wants to see me succeed. But it hurts training with him!

Keep in mind that, in hapkido, virtually everything is trained with a partner. Frequently we form a circle. The instructor illustrates a technique on the student to his left, who then practices it on the student to his/her left, and so on. Techniques hurt. Many of them are joint locks that can cause severe pain and damage, if pushed too far, so the student getting “locked” taps when it hurts so his partner lets up. One can tap on one’s self, the partner, the floor, or yell, “TAAAAAP!”. Joints are sore afterward, we get taken to the ground or are thrown, so rolling and falling techniques are important. But still, it’s a rare class when I don’t come home sore, and rarer still if I’m not sore the following day.

The other aspect of hapkido that I love and that I also find incredibly frustrating is that it is far more subjective, far less rigorous in terms of technique than tae kwon do. The flow is important: Try a technique, and if you miss or it doesn’t work, move into another. This is very different from the precise methods used in tae kwon do. It’s more practical, but I find it much more difficult to learn. How do I flow into another technique when I barely know the first one I tried? And I find myself being tentative in class because I am not confident. I told my wife that, “After a tae kwon do class, I feel like one of the best students in the class. After a hapkido class, I feel like the remedial kid that can’t get anything right.”

IV.

A few months ago, after earning my blue belt in tae kwon do, I started regularly attending hapkido class. I soon noticed that my conflict dreams were changing. Now, instead of getting into a position where my actions were useless, I found my dream-self addressing conflict with confidence and newly-learned (mostly hapkido) techniques. It was an abrupt change and definitely noticeable: rather than shooting bad guys that won’t die, I found myself manipulating bad guys who were rendered impotent themselves.

My dreams stayed that way for a while, but lately I notice that the seem to go back and forth. I had a particularly nasty one Tuesday night.

V.

For the first month or so, I was only able to attend one hapkido class a week. It’s just not enough to get a grasp of techniques, particularly since I don’t have anyone to practice with at home. So I have been trying to go twice a week now. I just got home from the Thursday evening class, and I went on Tuesday. Tuesday’s class focused on the flow of hapkido, and we primarily worked on defenses against getting punched.

I felt like a complete failure throughout class. I’m a low belt, no doubt, and I shouldn’t know this stuff that well, but I feel like I should be getting it more thoroughly than I am and I am frustrated. One thing in particular stuck with me, was that my partner came in super close to throw punches, like a real fighting distance. It was nearly overwhelming, and in hindsight, I would never let someone actually get that close to me. But it drove home the point that I am nowhere near capable of using any of the techniques that I’m learning in hapkido in a real conflict situation yet, and I think it affected me that night.

VI.

So, Tuesday night’s dream? The house I grew up in was here at the farm, instead of our house. Four trucks full of people pulled up at night, and the leader barged into the house. I had my S&W as usual, but he just kept telling me he wanted me to shoot him. So I didn’t. And he kept getting really, really close to me, and I kept pushing back, keeping a little more range between us. See how that ties in with class?

They drove their trucks through the farm, tearing everything up, and dumping a bunch of abused animals here. That aspect was really weird. I finally shot at their tires while they were driving over my vegetables–go ahead and guess if it did any good.

VII.

What I have put together from this is, on evenings where classes go well, I feel good about myself and have dreams where the bastards can’t get me. On nights when I feel that I trained badly, I lack confidence and have really unfortunate dreams.

Let’s see how tonight goes. Class went all right, though my frequent partner is really excellent at picking apart my techniques. That is emphatically NOT a complaint. It’s incredibly valuable to have someone give that sort of feedback. I hope it will reduce the frustration in the long run by driving my development as a martial artist more quickly.

My goal is to learn both tae kwon do and hapkido. I’m 46. My goal is to reach at least second dan in both, and teach them to others. I am afraid that hapkido is going to take me a very long time, but if I keep learning throughout, I don’t mind. I hope my wrists forgive me. In the meantime, I just got a book on staff fighting, so stay tuned for that…

EDIT:

This is one of those endings that is too perfect, but I swear it’s true: In last night’s dream, I went to a party and got into two different fights with the same guy (who was somehow related to me?). In both cases, I barely won. The first time, I used facial pressure points taught to me by my 2nd dan training partner, and in the second fight, I had an open elbow strike to the groin that I pointed out, so he relented (I guess I didn’t take the strike because he was related to me). Interestingly, in both conflicts I had my holstered sidearm that I never drew but was very aware of protecting from my opponent.

So that’s it. As of right now, I’m confident enough to take a beating but scrape out a victory. Ha!



Musicology.
July 11, 2018, 9:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I like music.

“Like” is such a terrible word.

I WANT music. I REQUIRE music.

I find myself thinking about the idiosyncratic preferences I have in music, the details I hone in on. What do I want in music?

I want a ride cymbal that’s huge, a cymbal that sounds less like hitting a cymbal than hitting a shovel. The ride at 2:40 here is perfect.

I want aggression. Even in quiet songs. But yeah, in loud songs, too.

I want passion. I would much rather hear a vocalist that can’t sing well but means it than someone who sings well but sounds unconnected to the music. I once burst into tears while driving when I was hit with the beauty and majesty of…fIREHOSE’s cover of “Slack Motherfucker.” Really. That guitar, Ed’s voice…at that moment, the power was overwhelming.

I prefer unique voices to good voices. I prefer Guy to Ian. I prefer Billie to Ella.

If it’s loud, I want overdrive, but not usually fuzz or distortion as one might think of it. Overdrive is shouting to make sure you’re heard; distortion is a loud drunk belaboring the point. Distortion is typing in ALL CAPS. Distortion is riding the crash.

I hear the bass guitar first. I think it’s from listening to fIREHOSE. Even when it’s boring and subdued, I hear it first. I want the bass defined, a good balance of treble and bass. Watt’s bass sound is perfect (imagine that).

I want a brutal snare. When I was in college, the drummer in the band I was in broke the bottom head on his snare and replaced it with a tom head. It sounded perfect; it sounded like Jimmy Chamberlain’s on Gish. He swapped it out with another one that sounded more traditional, that had more snap, but the guitarist and I would switch it back whenever he wasn’t looking.

I don’t generally like female vocalists but I’ve never been sure why. The two big exceptions, Fiona Apple and Neko Case, have low voices for women, and are very powerful. I could listen to Neko sing a damn phone book.

I want dynamics, but not artificial dynamics, and not dynamics that make a record difficult to listen to. I tend to think Steve Albini ruins records.

I want bands that get better with each release, or at least that don’t peak with their first record. Crooked Fingers. Archers of Loaf. fIREHOSE. Dinosaur Jr. Fugazi. The Beatles (who didn’t even get GOOD till Rubber Soul or so). The Police. Elvis Costello. Tom Waits. Love and Rockets’ next-to-last record was their masterpiece. The Pixies best two records are their first two; each after that is good, but slightly less good than the previous one. That makes me sad.

I want music I can enjoy with my kids that isn’t kid music. My kids love Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg.

I want singers who sing the songs they write, even if they aren’t the best singer. There isn’t a Dylan, Neil Young, or Springsteen cover I prefer to the original.

I want music that sounds like I can play it. Simple but effective.

I want jazz that’s melodic, but in which the melody is a bit fast and loose. Mingus is the best at this. I also love mid to  late-period Coltrane. I used to really get into old bebop, but now, it kind of reminds me of Steve Vai–technically impressive, but not as enjoyable as Blue Train. or Mingus Ah Um. Or even Kind of Blue.

I want noise, but controlled noise. It may not seem controlled at the moment, but then, suddenly, they come out of it and move on together, with precision. Fugazi and Archers are both really good at this. Sonic Youth noise bores me. Noise for noise’s sake isn’t interesting.

Music is life, but it’s subjective, innit? There is a lot of music out there not worth your time, but much more than you’ll ever hear that is. Judge music by your tastes; don’t judge people for theirs.

Happy listening.



All I ever wanted was to be your spine.
February 27, 2018, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Kids, Music

IMGP9525.JPGI travel for my job. Not a lot, but maybe six weeks a year, I am gone. This puts a strain on my wife, especially in the winter–dealing with chicken water, freezing eggs, two kids, three dogs…it’s a pain.

I am grateful to her for taking that on for me, because the part of my job where I travel is the most important part of my job (and my favorite part, too). I get to collaborate with colleagues from all over North America in fun places. If you’re one of the three people that regularly reads this, you will know that I travel and that I tend to meet new and interesting people.

That’s not what this post is about.

Ten years ago tomorrow, I missed one of only two meetings I’ve missed in my 13 year career. I missed it because my son was likely to be born that week. He was due February 28th, and he showed up that day.

As I write this, I am in Orange Beach, Alabama. I just got back from a long walk to get oysters. My hotel room’s patio door is open, and the Gulf of Mexico is pounding right outside my oceanview room. When I am done writing this, I will take my new guitar down to the beach and play Eric Bachmann songs in the dark. It’s a beautiful night and being here is a pure pleasure.

But The Boy turns double-digits tomorrow, and for the second year in a row, I am missing it. And I’d rather be in cold southern Indiana tonight so I could be there when he wakes up.

Did I ever tell you this story?

We had a summer meeting in Mobile, Alabama, in July 2010. The Boy was 2 1/2. I was eating breakfast in the Admiral Semmes Hotel with my colleagues when Melissa called me. She said that The Boy had something to tell me. He got on the phone, and sang me “Web In Front” by Archers of Loaf. Now, I will be the first to tell you that one shouldn’t have a favorite song, but that’s mine. I had to get up quickly from breakfast and leave the room because I was bawling like a baby. It is one of my fondest memories.

I am so proud of the young man he is becoming. I am proud of his voracious hunger for learning. I am proud that he is learning self-control. I am proud that he is athletic and fearless and outspoken. I am even proud that he’s pigheaded and stubborn. I can’t remember what my life was like before he showed up ten years ago, but I know he made it better. Happy birthday, Boyo. Make it a great one and I’ll see you Friday.

 



The lowest part is free.
February 2, 2018, 9:29 am
Filed under: Farming

The following statement will be delivered to Hodge Patel, a member of Senator Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN) staff, on my behalf.

My name is Adam Phelps, and 2018 will be my seventh season growing vegetables, fruit, eggs, and poultry at Ghostwood Farm, in northern Lawrence County. I apologize for not being able to speak with you in person, but unfortunately, I, like more than half of the farmers in the US, work a job in addition to farming.

I began the farm with the following ideals:

That a Small Farm Renaissance could provide people with locally grown, high-quality food, thereby improving local economies, local health, and reducing the pollution that comes along with long-distance shipping.

That my children should know that food does not come from a grocery store, but is grown in soil by real people, who work hard to feed the world.

That quality food should be available to everyone, regardless of income.

And that I could help those things happen while making a living doing it.

Like most small farmers, I have learned that is not the case. Last year, we nearly broke even for the first time. I recognize that there are startup costs to any business, and a farm, even a small one, requires sizable initial investments. But please keep in mind that when I say we nearly broke even, that only includes covering our costs: It does not include any compensation, any wages, for the time we spend farming. We give our time away to grow food.

I find myself in a classic catch-22 situation: I think I could make a living at farming if I could work at it full-time. However, I can’t afford to quit my job to farm full-time without already making money at the farm. So I’m stuck in between.

Most weekdays, mid-April through mid-September, I go to work at my main job, pick up our two kids, and feed them dinner. Then I work on the farm–planting, weeding, harvesting–until dark. Luckily, I am able to work all my hours at my other job in four days, so I have Fridays off to work on the farm. I take two weeks of vacation every May to do the main planting. And I farm on Saturdays and Sundays, too, taking valuable time away from my family. My kids, 7 and 9, are already starting to talk about how I am about to become too busy to play with them because farm season is coming.

One way to break out of this cycle that we have been exploring is to seek 501c(3) nonprofit status. We have, over the past three years, shifted our focus from growing to sell to growing to donate. We have donated thousands of plant starts to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and hundreds of pounds of produce to Hoosier Hills Food Bank, and we work with those organizations to intentionally provide the kinds of plants and produce their clients most need. With nonprofit status, we would be eligible for grants, and people could write off donations to us. This could be the source of the relatively small influx of cash we need to make the infrastructure improvements  our farm needs to be more productive with less work, but that we cannot afford when we are just breaking even.

Then, the 2017 tax bill came along. With the rise in the standard deduction being likely to cause far fewer people to itemize, charitable donations will drop nationwide. We have had to re-think our calculus regarding nonprofit status, because that world, always uncertain, was just rendered even more challenging by this devastating legislation.

I do not like to complain, and I am not a greedy person. I love being able to grow what people need and give it to them. I choose to do this. But there is something wrong with a system in which commodity crops are heavily subsidized and farmers growing actual food struggle, a system in which people struggling with poverty also have to struggle with nutrition because quality food is out of their reach. This is an unjust system that doesn’t make sense on its face.

But it is within your power to affect some change. The 2017 Farm Bill can include grants, cost shares, and low-interest loans for small farmers, beginning farmers, minority farmers. Money that is desperately needed for equipment, infrastructure, and conservation practices. Incentives to grow food for people, rather than commodities for markets. Incentives to farm sustainably, without chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Incentives to prioritize local food over industrial “organic.” Local food connects neighbors and builds economies while helping people make healthy food choices. In all of the tremendous budget in this bill, surely this must be a priority.

We, the small farmers of this country, we can help save the world. Really. Please help us do it. Nutritious food should not be a luxury, and those who grow it should not have to choose between growing food and making a living.

Thank you for your time.



January 12, 2018, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized