When I was growing up, Memorial Day was more commonly called “Decoration Day,” because you went to the cemetery and decorated the graves of those in your family who had died in a war.
That photo above there is of my birth father, on leave from the Navy in 1965. He’s the one in the glasses, smoking a cigarette.
He didn’t die in a war. He died at 53, from cancer caused by Agent Orange, which he was exposed to repeatedly in Vietnam.
He was in the Navy for 20 years, from the time he was 17, and he was an active SEAL for most of that time. He spent a lot of time in Vietnam and had some very serious drug and alcohol problems because of everything that happened to him there. (Meaning, he eventually had a hard time coping with all the people he had killed, and he felt that he had killed them, basically, for no reason at all.)
He’s 20 years old in that photo. I was 5 by then and living in Cleveland. He didn’t know I even existed until I was 28 years old. It’s sufficient to say that he was really angry, just heartbroken, that no one had told him that I had ever even been born. He didn’t find out about me until I was completely grown. It killed him that he had totally missed my childhood.
However. In an interesting twist of fate…
When he first got into the Navy, when he was still in his late teens, my dad was stationed in the Philippines and one day, outside a bar that was frequented by American sailors, he found a tiny baby girl in a trash can – still alive. She’d been abandoned. He took the baby to an old, retired prostitute and he sent that woman money every month, to take care of the baby. And he did that until the “baby” was 18 years old. He knew that the little girl had survived, but after she turned 18, he didn’t keep in touch with that old woman anymore and did not know what became of the girl.
Even though my dad was only 15 when I was born, he was already in jail in Ross County, doing 6 months for stealing from a store. When he got out, he went to North Carolina to live with his older sister, my Aunt Jo, pictured there above, sitting in the doorway of her trailer home. She helped my dad get his criminal record cleared so that he could join the Navy when he was 17.
My Uncle Ralph is playing the guitar in that photo. My dad also played guitar and sang and wrote songs. But my Uncle Ralph became professional at it, went to Nashville and worked steadily with Tammy Wynette and George Jones, and a bunch of other really famous Country & Western greats. He eventually had his own band and had a couple of hits on the Country charts.
My Uncle Ralph is the only one in my dad’s family who’s still alive. Here’s a photo of my grandpa (my dad’s dad) and my Aunt Bobby Jean and my Uncle Earl. This is back when they all still lived in eastern Kentucky, in the early 1940s, before my dad or my Uncle Ralph were born. They’re all dead now.
My grandpa was a horse trainer and a farmer, and he also played guitar and sang and hung out in bars and got really drunk. He died young from liver problems.
Here is a photo of my great grandpa. He’s the one standing on the top right. He is with all of his brothers – my great-uncles. My great-grandpa, Ashbel, was an Attorney General for the State of Kentucky. I don’t know if he played guitar or sang, but he definitely did not hang out in bars and get drunk…
And here is my great-great-grandpa. He was a Kentucky State Senator. Kentucky was a split State, meaning that some of the State fought on the side of the Union, and some on the side of the Confederates during the Civil War. My great-great-grandpa was a Confederate, an absolute Rebel, through and through.
He died in the Battle of Cynthiana, during the Civil War, and this is a postcard of the monument that honors the soldiers who fell in that battle. His grave is marked by one of those little white gravestones in that circle. He’s actually buried there.
They were the nicest family, ever. And once they found out about me, they never once treated me like I was illegitimate or anything. They were all singers, songwriters, guitar players. My dad, in particular, thought I was a great songwriter and wanted me to leave NYC and go to Nashville, where I had family in the music business. But I didn’t. I certainly had a TON of country influences in my songs, but my songs were still more folk than country.
My name was Dory when I was born, btw.
My adoptive family changed my name to “Marilyn Joy.” (Even though my legal name is now regarded as Marilyn Jaye, it’s actually Marilyn Joy.)
So that’s that, as they say.
In an unrelated topic….
I don’t know what it is about Luxembourg, but, man, does that seem like it was a great show last night. I’m so serious. And, as you know, I have seen every single photo from the Conversations with Nick Cave that have been taken this year & posted to Instagram, and the photos on Instagram from the show last night are remarkably different.
You can feel it coming through the photos, you can hear it in Nick Cave’s voice in the (really short!!) video clips posted there, too.
I don’t know what happened there last night, what the difference was, but it seems like it was magical. Honestly. I’m not just saying that. The best photos so far definitely came from Luxembourg last night.
Oh, and at one point a guy from the audience was actually sharing the piano bench with him! Sitting next to Nick Cave, while he was singing “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry.” (Which sounded really great with just him and the piano.)
Loyal readers of this lofty blog no doubt recall that the seat I was hoping to get at the show in Town Hall in NYC was “next to him on the piano bench” but I was truly just joking. So when I saw that photo last night, I was sort of alarmed, you know? I had no idea that kind of thing really happened.
Anyway. It was just amazing, palpable. It has to have been just an incredible show.
Okay, let’s get that holiday happening here, gang! (You’re probably completely astounded to learn that I will spend most of my holiday at my desk, writing! But eventually, I’ll go out and buy all the flowers, soil, etc., wash down the patio furniture that’s out on the porch, and get that all happening. And, yes, I will finally rake up all those darn dead leaves from the fall…) (I’m sure all my neighbors will be glued to their windows, saying: “Come look! She’s finally fucking doing it!!”)
If you live in the United States, have a great holiday. Otherwise, have a wonderful Saturday, wherever you are in the world. I did not listen to any music during breakfast today, for some reason. I guess I was just digging the bird songs! But thanks for visiting. I love you guys. See ya.
PS: A happy belated birthday to Bob Dylan. He turned 117 years old yesterday. Something like that… He’s pictured here with Tom Petty in the mid-1980s, from that period when Tom and the Heartbreakers agreed to be his backup band and go on tour with him.
Of course, I adore Bob Dylan. And have since I was a young girl, just learning how to play guitar and to write songs. And he was one of the main reasons I wound up going to Greenwich Village and being a folk singer. But I loved him even more when I read his statement to the press after Tom died: “It’s shocking , crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.” Okay, gang. See ya.