I Would Just As Soon Not Die Like A.P. Carter.
For most of my life I have had two heroes, Abraham Lincoln and A.P. Carter. I have all of Lincoln's frailties but that is where the comparison must end. On the other hand, most of the rest of his world did not understand him, but A.P. Carter and I would have understood each other very well. We have a lot in common, both in our strengths and our flaws. Though he died just a few months after I was born he and I would make sense to each other.
I understand why he would hop in a car without a penny in his pocket accompanied by Leslie Riddle, a great young black musician with an impeccable memory for tunes, and ride over the mountains to learn and adapt ancient songs that would otherwise have been lost to the ages. He would understand why I would take on another wild corolla stallion, heal him and train him, so that he, and his breed will not be lost to the ages. A.P. and I both had adoring daughters who would, at times, simply shrug and say, "My Daddy is very peculiar man." He had utterly no interest in arranging the old songs that he preserved to make them more acceptable to the public. He "worked up" his songs until he had them the way that he and his family liked them and if the rest of the world was not sharp enough to pick up on the quality of his work, he felt that the loss was theirs. I would not have to explain to A.P. why I would be no more impressed with the approval of the established horse world than I would be if a mosquito paused to let me know that my blood was of the highest quality.
Sarah's voice was impeccable. Maybelle's guitar playing drew in the crowds. He had neither the vocal nor instrumental talent of his beautiful wife and his young sister in law. He did not mind putting them out front. He did not mind what spotlight there was being on them. He recognized his role. He simply was the genius that worked to collect and work up the songs that Sarah and Maybelle performed so well, as he occasionally "bassed in",as he called it. (A.P. was never constrained by vocabulary. When he needed a new word he created one. Hence, he referred to himself as a "songster" whereas Maybelle was a true "musicianer.")
When I was a young politician my life was not without excitement. As a 21 year old student at William and Mary I picked up the phone to be asked by the White House operator if I could stay by the phone because the President would like to speak with me and would be calling within the next five minutes. Being thanked by the President for the advice that I had given his campaign staff on putting together a successful caucus strategy for Virginia was heady stuff for a kid of that age. But my legs never felt weak. I could breath fine.
When I stepped into the museum at the Carter fold for the first time it hit me that I was really standing in the actual country store that A.P. Carter owned AND that I was talking to his daughter, Jeanette. My legs buckled. I could inhale fine, but exhaling was not as easy. Maybelle's guitar pick, Sarah's dress, A.P.'s shoes...this was more than my body was designed to handle.
A.P.'s music was his life and but for about a decade of that life the rest of America forgot him and set his music aside. Sarah divorced him and moved to California. Maybelle and her daughters moved to Nashville and became popular playing popular, current songs. A.P. went back home and opened a little country store and eked out a living. As his grandson Dale said, "It is hard to know that you are all so gosh darn famous when you don't have but two pair of pants."
A.P. died in 1960. The folk music craze had not taken off on college campuses as it soon would. A top rate professional banjo player could make more money as an electrician. When A.P. died he had no reason to hope that his music would not die with him.
But tastes are fickle. Three years later, Sarah and Maybelle were big draws at the Newport Folk Festival. When a young Bob Dylan met Johnny Cash the first thing that he said to Cash was "Did you know A.P. Carter?" Within a decade of his death the songs that A.P. worked all of his life to preserve became part of the repertoire of hundreds of blue grass and folk music groups all over the nation.
'Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Keep on The Sunny Side," "Wildwood Flower," ...and over 300 more songs.
My point is simple. A.P. lived to be 69 years old. I doubt if I will live that long. It is my strong preference that there be enough Corollas preserved, both in the wild and in captivity, by the time of my death for me to die with a smile on my face.
Oh come on, what else do you have to do more important than making an old man happy?