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SUNBIRD SINGS of good news from Kimmie Rhodes

SUNBIRD SINGS of good news from Kimmie Rhodes

Not only have our Cabildo (government) seemed to handle the coronavirus situation over here pretty well but so, too, have the citizens of Lanzarote who have stayed away from the beaches and the countryside. With virtually no tourists left on the island and all the hotels and restaurants closed, and even the churches often not delivering services, I am amazed how friendly the shopkeepers are when I walk in and, whilst wearing my mask, ask in my Lancashire accent, ´ee oop, wherst t´íced lollies, chuck?´ They always smile helpfully and point me in the right direction of a Mint Chocolate Magnum.

And from all around the world, as I gather and disperse news, interviews, previews and reviews all across the arts for the English speaking residents living here on Lanzarote and to my Sidetracks and Detours blog for a ´global´ readership, we receive wonderful daily items about what is going on in the arts.

For my blog this week I have written about video films and home schooling resource packs being distributed by M6 Theatre in Rochdale so that the town´s young children who had been looking forward to an Easter production of Whatever The Weather, (photo left) aimed at four to seven year olds (but also suitable from children of all ages from eight to eighty), can instead watch it safe at home on the video with mum and dad.

I have heard, too, that the creative writing groups I used to facilitate when I lived in Rochdale are now running ´virtual´ meetings from home, and producing some wonderful poetry and prose under the guidance of people like Eileen Earnshaw, Robin Parker and Val Chadwick, some of the Borough´s leading authors.

The town now even has an on-line choir according to Steve Cooke´s what´s on all across the arts section on the same page..

Maximum Ensemble

Here on Lanzarote, The Cabildo and its Council Of Arts, Culture and Tourism (CACT) have also worked together with the island´s musicians to deliver virtual concerts over Easter on Instagram and facebook, and there are apparently more scheduled for the coming weeks.

Actually the lockdown has even provided a bonus for me in my work,  as artists now have more time to respond to e-mail interviews or to write their own news to submit to my pages. So Lanzarote Information and my Sidetracks and Detours blog can both look forward to an in-depth and exclusive interview with all four members of the wonderful Canary Island group Maximum Ensemble.

Indeed, I have even received today an uplifting communiqué from American singer writer Kimmie Rhodes from her home in Texas. I first met Kimmie back in the nineteen eighties when she was touring the UK with her band and gave some incredible country music shows.

I actually last wrote about her on my Lanzarote Information pages over a year ago, some while after she had lost her husband, Joe Gracey, himself a great musician, songwriter and entertaining dj, to cancer. She wrote then to ask me to publicise a crowd funding appeal she was launching to help pay for the publication of her memoirs about life with Joe.

Joe died a few years ago now and Kimmie has always wanted to collate his papers and create his memoirs, but it seemed the cost of publication would be prohibitive.

However, she launched a crowd funding campaign, reaching out to those American and British fans who remember Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracie making great music.

The crowd-funding target was reached and the book, Radio Dreams, was published, and what stories it tells. Those of us who knew him fondly remember Joe as a great raconteur but still can´t quite believe some of the stories he told have made it into print or that some of his escapades can be so smoothed over as to make them suitable for the mass market.

However, the book has received a very positive review from another of my favourite American songwriters, Rodney Crowell, who is also the author of a novel called Chinaberry Sidewalks.

He says of this book of Joe´s life that ´this dual memoir invites readers into the unique and private world of platinum-selling songwriter and artist Kimmie Rhodes, and her soul-mate, beloved radio personality Joe Gracey, who died in 2011. Weaving her own poetic prose, with wry and witty words from his journals, Rhodes returns him to the conversation to tell the fascinating story of their three decades together. Her trippy songwriter´s tales and his hilarious and poignant writing will take you on a time-machine adventure from Saturdays mornings spent watching country and western stars on tv to the wild seventies era in which the hippies, weary from protesting the raging Vietnam war, joined the Red Necks to kick back and play some music in the ´Groovers´ Paradise´ that was Austin, Texas. Riding with fellow outlaws Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, ¨Cowboy´ Jack Clement, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doug Sahm and other famous, and infamous, characters, they helped turn Austin into a scene and ´outlaw country´ into a sound, before facing Gracey´s final cancer battle.

Through triumph and tragedy, grief and gratitude, their story speaks of the extraordinary life and inspiring love they shared.´

The book is described on its cover as being ´the story of an outlaw dj and a cosmic cowgirl´ but should net deny that Joe and Kimmie were always charm personified, and this crowd-funded work sheds some new light on each of them.

So imagine my surprise today, when receiving a newsletter described as Kimmie´s Monthly Magic Box, seemingly under the title of Sunbird Sings from Kimmie´s office, updating all her fans with Kimmie´s latest news and views.. Because it so full of common sense, great wisdom and endless good will I republish some of it here, confident you might then feel inspired to seek it out and become a subscriber yourself. If you are new to her work you will discover some great music all surrounded by Kimmie´s great sense of humour.

The letter from America began by her reflecting that ´It’s been three weeks or so now since we began our self-quarantine, shelter in place, stay at home, new lives but already it seems as though the world has changed forever. Something ancient and invisible and beyond our full control has stirred the soil of the political divide and sown unimagined things and now they are pushing upwards towards something. We know not just exactly what.   

As we wait out the current pandemic, we might keep in mind what Noah Webster, then the editor of New York City’s first daily newspaper, wrote to a friend during the yellow fever epidemic in the fall of 1793…

 “The natural evils that surround us also lay the foundation for the finest feelings of the human heart, compassion and benevolence.´ 

There is evidence of those finer feelings and of our insatiable thirst for arts and culture and higher aspiration evidenced in recent news reports from around the world, as Kimmie reminded us.

´Ballerina Ashlee Montague wore a gas mask while dancing in the nearly deserted Times Square as the coronavirus outbreak continued to shut down New York City. Meanwhile The Great Opera Classics are available for free online from March 17th, the Paris Opera is offering its most beautiful shows, from Swan Lake to Don Giovanni, free online. 


Kimmie´s newsletter contains recordings, poetry, original songs and handmade mini movies. She also includes short stories and her own musings on travel, literature, art, food, archives, history, gardening, humour and ´all things life!´

The Kimmie Rhodes reach-out is an engrossing read, perfect for transporting us beyond the isolation of our own home. For those who prefer to ponder the problem rather than seek to escape it there is a signpost to an articvle about How The Bubonic Plague Made The Italian Renaissance Possible, from which I quote below.

´The Black Death (1347-1350) was a pandemic that devastated the populations of Europe and Asia. The plague was an unprecedented human tragedy in Italy. It not only shook Italian society but transformed it. The Black Death marked an end of an era in Italy, its impact was profound, and it resulted in wide-ranging social, economic, cultural and religious changes.

These changes, directly and indirectly, led to the emergence of the Renaissance, one of the greatest epochs for art, architecture, and literature in human history.´

For those who have great concerns for the state of the Arts during the time of Coronavirus, Kimmie cites the words of Heather O´Neill in suggesting that ´Throughout history, art was created during pandemics—to amuse, to console, and to give voice to those who were previously unheard.´

´Since self-isolation began, people all over the world have taken to putting up live streams on Instagram to communicate stories. They recite poems, cook vegetables, play music and entertain in any way they can. Because the need to hear stories is as strong as it is to tell them.

 When Shakespeare was a baby, a plague was ravaging the city, having already killed both his older siblings. It is speculated that Shakespeare’s exposure to the plague as an infant caused him to develop immunity. Who can say if this is true, but he survived four major plagues outbreaks that were severe enough to close theatres—1582, 1592, 1603 and 1607—during his lifetime. Whenever there were plagues during the Renaissance, the theatres were shuttered en masse.

Shakespeare wrote in fits. He would not produce a play for several years and then go through a creative streak. In 1606, when he was 42 years old, he was in a fallow period, and it might have seemed to him that his best works were perhaps now behind him. But then when the plague closed down theatres, forcing him away from the wonderful mayhem of production, Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth.

These are masterworks of tragedy and introspection, which delve into the deepest realms of paranoid human solitude.

And what is the point of creating such twisted tales during dark times? Aristotle’s Poetics claims that by witnessing grieving, fear and pity in tragedy, we fear and grieve less when they happen in real life. Which explains why everyone is streaming Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 movie Contagion

And for when you have pondered upon the meaning and purpose of the life and the inclusion and the isolation of its art Kimmie Rhodes invites you also to Make Something Beautiful, which just happens to be the title of a song, written apparently as recently as March 22nd 2020 by Kimmie Rhodes and her daughter Gabriel and their friend Marcia Ball, one of the great voices of all times and sometime collaborator with Butch Hancock of The Flatlanders. I think its sentiments should be taken to all out hearts, for these words, whether read as a poem or heard as a song, surely offer comfort.

Kimmie makes magic


Something that was never there
appears to you out of thin air.
In the darkest night the stars will shine,
waiting there for us to find.
We only have to look to see 
how magical the world can be.
Make something beautiful
Make something beautiful 
Out of the blue…

Plant a seed and watch it grow.
Sing a song you never know,
a melody, a single flower
might help a friend to pass the hours.
Like clouds up in the patchwork sky
while we’re drifting through this life,
Make something beautiful
Make something beautiful 
Out of the blue…

            Heaven’s not the only place where miracles begin.
            Find the love inside your heart and give the world a gift.
            Make something beautiful 
            Make something beautiful
            Out of the blue…. 
What we make of circumstance
everyday’s another chance
to take whatever comes our way
and turn it into something great.
We only have to look to find
what we’ll make of precious time.
Make something beautiful
Make something beautiful
Out of the blue….

Of course, we here at all across the arts believe that Sidetracks and Detours is a good eclectic read, bringing you the best arts and artists from Spain, Portugal, The Canary Islands, the UK, The Channel Islands, Australia and America. We deliver news, of poetry and pottery, interviews with literary and loquacious subjects, we preview dance and drum we review song and sculpture. When you follow our Sidetracks and Detours you will surely see other magazines, web sites and blogs like Kimmie´s to enjoy. That´s ok. We encourage you to do so, especially whilst living in imposed isolation. There is, surely,  room for all of us to wander at a social or virtual distance all across the arts, and we recognise that great artists and great art will always guide us safely home.

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