On Gaelynn, Grandma Moses, and going over the hills

Last month I penned that post about Gaelynn Lea, which you can read here. She actually ended up winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Competition, an almost unimaginable turn of events. Predicting this outcome would have been akin to choosing David over Goliath. Lea’s selection came out of a pool of 6,100 other entries from around the country, and gives hope to underdogs everywhere.  Check out her Tiny Desk Concert right here. If you have kids, watch it with them. At the very least, scroll to about 11 minutes/15 seconds for Bird Song. Fantastic. Look closely, and you’ll see that she doesn’t have full use of all her fingers…

For a lot of reasons, her recent success has been enormously inspiring and encouraging to me. This week’s column in the paper touches on why. Here’s how it begins:

At the moment this paper goes to print, I’ll be entering a new decade by completing my 40th trip around the sun. Time keeps moving. My 41st orbit commences right now, to the tune of 66,600 miles per hour.
It has never been an easy journey for me. With good looks, plenty of cash, and an easy manner, it can feel like others have an easier go of things. While they seem to enjoy a picnic, I hold on for dear life—with grimace and digestive juices tamped down for the sake of propriety—barely able to handle the centripetal force as we spin at a velocity exceeding 1,000 mph.
Upon closer inspection, and with a gaze away from my own navel, it’s easy to see that very few people float through life with a charmed existence. Loneliness, sickness, struggle, and heartache, visit us all.
Earlier this year I enjoyed a visit with Gaelynn Lea, a local musician who just this past week achieved national prominence. You can read about our incredibly candid conversation on my blog. Since then she has gone on to win NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. Her humble entry—heart stirring, soulful, honest, unabashed—was selected from among thousands sent in from across the country. Many of these were slick, MTV-like professional productions with action, intensity, and larger-than-life rock ‘n’ roll personalities.
Then there’s Gaelynn. She’s so slight of frame….

You can see the rest of this short piece here.

At the moment of writing this her fans on Facebook have increased by 750% since that last blog post on her. Also, her albums are self-distributed. Picture Gaelynn and her husband scrambling to fulfill large numbers of individual orders in their living room. Occasional photos showing piles of envelopes made ready for shipment have been most entertaining, perhaps because I can relate to what was almost certainly her previous reality: a feeling somewhere between gratitude and ecstasy whenever a single electronic $10 bill floated into her inbox in accompaniment with an order request…

Somebody else who I’ve recently taken a shining to is Grandma Moses. Completely self-taught, she began painting at the age of 78. Observe her lack of basic perspective here with Taking in the Laundry. The  clotheslines are flattened out and sort of stacked on top of each other. You can also see that she never really got comfortable with painting people, especially when looking closely at faces and shoulders (as if a child created them). The critics must have hated her work, but I love it. Primitivist folk art that tells a story…


Morning Day on the Farm:


This last piece, The Rainbow, was completed in 1961, the year she died at the age of 101. She is the quintessential late bloomer.


My wife handed me an enormous book about Grandma Moses for my birthday. The $75 retail price on the cover raised my eyebrows toward the back of my head. She reassured me by letting me in on the fact that she plucked it from a Little Free Library in the neighborhood. I’m so very thankful for this.

I manage a Little Free Library in my own front yard. It brings me joy to think of other people deriving similar satisfaction now and again from such treasures. Another time I’ll tell you about it. Until then, keep on keepin’ on…



3 thoughts on “On Gaelynn, Grandma Moses, and going over the hills

  1. Eddy, what is the Little Free Library? In my neighborhood, one house has a beautiful wooden box with colorful letters on it: Books. Read. Share. It is filled with books and I am assuming that is the concept you are talking about. I had been meaning to go ask them about it. Love the idea. Every time we go by, kids notice and get excited about reading too. 🙂

    1. Yeah, they’re fantastic. Mostly because the concept is so simple. Give a book/Take a book. No real rules (for mine anyway), just ordinary neighborliness, which, in our day and age isn’t so ordinary, thus becoming extraordinary. I’ll plop in a short post on our’s soon. Thanks!

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