217 candles

I love traveling to exotic and exciting places, but I like to living in a comfortable, cozy place. Home to me is like the song that greets the Derby every spring. It's my old Kentucky home, and this month she's toutin' 217 years of independent living.

On June 1, 1792 the fifteenth United States state was born. Up until then we ran through a bit of an identity crisis trying to settle on a proper name. First we were Cane-tuck-ee, then Cantucky, then Kain-tuck-ee, then Kentuckee and finally Kentucky County, part of Virginia since the end of the Revolutionary War. Daniel Boone was one of the first settlers to get here way back when this part of the country was considered western territory. He's still here to this day, buried on a hillside overlooking the state capitol. Before Dan, the original keepers were the Native Americans; the Shawnees and Cherokees.

Mr. Washington was about half way through his first presidential term when mother Virginia allowed her chick to leave the nest. The nation was still saluting its first flag, but that changed when the fifteenth state got a star AND a stripe. Later on, someone got wise and convinced the flag rule makers that it would probably be a good idea to keep the stripes as originally was (thirteen) and reward each new state with just a star. So Kentucky lost its stripe on Old Glory. We were the last state to get one of our own, even if it was just for a while.

I live in a nifty little place. We don't make the big news a lot, and too much of the world thinks chicken buckets, fast horses and banjos are all we're about. But we've got over two hundred candles on our cake, so I'm thinking we have a few things to be proud of. And I'll be very happy to brag.



I'm not addicted to it, but I am truly fascinated by this season's American Idol. Last year I thought little David was the greatest young voice to ever come along. Such control and texture. I still think he's incredible with his voice, I just wish whoever put his last (first) record together didn't.

The '09 version of the show is kinda crazy-cool-weird to me. I've been offering my own running commentary on Twitter and Facebook (be my friend), and I learned very quickly that not everyone agrees. I enjoy the variety of opinions and I appreciate the input, so I hope it continues. I've learned a lot about us in these typed conversations, both in the public postings and the privates.

Music's effect and value, I think, is a matter of taste and fad. Johnny Cash was huge in the sixties, seventies and early eighties. His music was popular and his fans were loud about it. Eventually though his star faded, and just as eventually so did his music. Thirty years later when his story became a movie and stole the tix box it was cool to be a Cash fan again. Johnny's first round of success was about his music and his style. I think the last time was a fad.

I'm guessing back in the day there were a good number of honest but paranoid church folks who thought Johnny was born in Hell. For one thing he was a backslider. He started out singing gospel, but no one bought it. So he cranked up the volume and turned his attention to singing the devil's music in the devil's yard. Who knows, maybe the congregation was right. Johnny certainly had his issues with drugs and stuff, and it more than likely had a lot to do with the distance he'd put between himself and God. He said as much. But I'm betting it wasn't the Christians with the sticks and stones that convinced him to come back to faith.

I was and am a big Johnny Cash fan. I liked his dark persona, his dark clothes and his dark music. A few weeks ago when Adam Lambert took on the Cash classic "Ring of Fire" on American Idol, you better know the stuff and the fan collided. You'd've thought Johnny's grave was falling in. People were screaming. They were passing out. They were breathing into paper bags. How could he?!?!?!

I thought it was awesome.

The genius creativity and delivery and sultriness of the Lambert version of "...Fire" was one of the most alluring and exciting and almost spooky musical things I've heard in quite a while. Right away I was taken past the song he was singing and tuned into what he was doing and how he was doing it. Beyond personal taste, I don't see how anyone who studies and loves the art of melody and music couldn't have been impressed. Another thing that stoked me about the whole drama was Adam's refusal to back down from the traditionalist critics. And personally, I think the man in black would've absolutely loved it - hearing his 1963 song in a new, 2009 way. A lot of his fans may be uptight, but that doesn't mean he was. And you know June would've been all about those royalty checks.

Years ago when my family first started in the music business, our record company was sending our songs to radio stations everywhere and they were getting some air time. There was a good chance that anybody who heard one of them had no idea who we were or what we looked like. One of our first singing trips out of Kentucky took us to a neat little church in Missouri. We pulled up, set our sound, put our one record out to sell, changed our clothes, and walked on the stage. The preacher wanted to know where the lady was. He'd heard her on the radio. He was sure there was a girl in there somewhere. Evidently the church was partial to real singing families with a singing mom, a singing dad and singing kids. Until we pulled into their parking lot that's what they thought we were. Although they liked what they heard on the radio before, we weren't their preference, and no doubt they heard us differently once they knew we were ladyless.

Several years later a promoter in Chicago called our booking agent and scheduled us for an appearance. A couple of weeks later when he received the promotional materials he called back to say there had been a mistake. He wanted a black group, and the song he'd been hearing on the radio gave him the impression that we were black. He told the agent that he enjoyed our sound but he very kindly and graciously expressed that we were just not what his market would pay for. We understood. You can bet that he heard Bishops music differently after that.

What if we didn't know anything about the American Idols? What if we weren't aware of their back stories, their tragedies, or indiscretions? What if we knew nothing about their religious beliefs or where they're from or who they're attracted to or how old they are? What if we didn't know what color their skin was or what their hair or their clothes or their nails look like? What if "American Idol" was a radio show?

Adam has been an Idol lightning rod this season, especially on celebrity and religious web sites. If you follow my Twitter tweets and my Facebook updates you know that I'm a big fan. I'm fascinated by his voice, his control, his pitch, his poise and his placement. To me, the top of his range is incredible. A couple of people have called it screaming, but I know for a fact that they've stood themselves on stages with some of the most popular professional screamers in the biz. So I don't necessarily consider their evaluation as a negative.

I've noticed too that there are a fair number of people who prefer to judge looks instead of talent. Most of them don't like Adam's style. "He looks evil." "Devil worshippers wear black nails and eye liner." "I think he's a bad role model," they say. Regardless of his talent, they've decided he doesn't deserve to be the winner because he'd stick out in their choir.

On the other hand, Danny and Kris actually do fit the robes. I think it's great. Their music started or was cultivated in church. And although they've not made it a point of distinction, they've also not hidden it, especially Danny. I'm proud of them. I'm happy for them. I think they have tremendous talent. But I don't think either of them is the best singer on the show. And I'm not going to cast a dishonest vote just because I like their faith. If the contest is about who is the better Christian, I'm afraid we're not qualified to decide. I'm sure too that if we knew the whole, honest, human and probable sinful side of the eventual winner we'd waste good wood and nails on them.

I've made it a point, when I tweet and Facebook about AI, to offer my thoughts on the performances. It's become routine though when the comments start for the conversation to quickly become a debate on which singer seems most like Jesus. Sometimes the words get ugly. Sometimes the "Christian" commenter comes across as less Christ-like than their unholy target. I also get a lot of private messages. They either express outright anger toward the free-living liberals who'll let any old thing live and prosper, or disgust with the arrogant and righteous who prefer to kill it and bury it before it spreads.

I'm sure that each Idol wannabe is aware that scrutiny and judgement of their personal lives is part of the package. Since the producers have made it more than a talent show by taking us into the homes and worlds of the singers, their pre-Idol life becomes part of the deal. You can bet too when you sign up for the biggest show on television that your "friends" are going to shop around and sell anything they have that has your fingerprint on it, any picture you've posed for (or not), or any film with so much as an appearance by your shadow. Even with my limited brushes with semi-fame, I know the critics, the profiteers and the cynics are aplenty.

So, It doesn't matter to me if Adam loves Eve or Steve. (I've been dying to say that.) If Danny and Kris are believers or atheists, that doesn't raise or lower my critique of their talent. I plan to text my vote for the best performer. If I've committed a sin I trust that Jesus has the remedy. Then again, maybe he and I are rooting for the same guy.