See You In Hell, Blind Boy
is a novel I've been working on for a number of years, since my
first novel Enemy Ace: War Idyll actually. It's a text
novel that incorporates comics, spot illustrations, photographs
and a DVD of some of the music and interviews I made while on the road in the Mississippi Delta researching the project. Dark Horse Publishing is interested in the project and it looks like this book will finally see print.
A documentary film by the same name has also
been completed by me, Steven Budlong and James McGillion.
It was on the Film Festival circuit when we first finished it and we won
Best Feature Documentary in the New York International Independent
Below is a single chapter of See You In Hell, Blind
Boy along with a few images to whet your appetite.
past Lucille Hurt's dwelling, we make our way up the slick, rutted
road deeper into the woods of Avalon. The sun slinks behind the
clouds in anticipation of our pilgrimage to John Hurt's grave;
so solemn an occasion deserves weather of the same.
The windows are down and the smell of moist
loam invades our nostrils, the humid air cool and refreshing.
Sky-pools lap the edges of the ruts and I keep rushing them, hoping
speed will win the way. Muddy water fans away from the wheels
in great plumes of spray. There's a couple of close calls, the
car slides close to an embankment, thenstuck.
I try rocking out, forward and reverse, but
I'm only digging us deeper. We both get out and try pushingno
luck. Scavenging about we gather up as much loose wood as possible,
jam it under the tires and, using man- and engine-power, try to
dislodge the car. To no avail.
Leaning against the side-panels, we're breathless.
John shakes his head and smiles. "Mississippi
"You want to just walk there?"
He shrugs his shoulders. "I don't mind."
I grab my camera and recorder, lock the car
up and we suction-cup our way uphill.
"From here on back is Avalon," John
says, surveying the surrounding forest. We walk past a scenic
overlook that allows us a panoramic view of the Delta floodplain,
stretching below us in flatland grandeur.
"It really is beautiful here."
"Uh-hunh, you see how fertile it is back
There's volume to this big silence and our
voices are loud. I can see our reflections in the water, two ghosts
balancing upside down in a mirror world.
"There used to be a path there,"
John says, pointing towards a line of hedges so deep they look
like one mass. "We used to walk across there to our house.
It don't hardly look like the same place."
"It's grown up so much?"
"Yeah. It really has that. This used to
be a dusty road in the summertime."
"Can hardly believe it now, lookin' at
it," I say, sidestepping another puddle.
"Sure cain't," he says. "This
was a small community. Lot of farmin' goin' on."
We walk for quite a ways, hopscotching puddles,
pine needles spongy beneath our shoes. The road is a ravine, the
roots of trees exposed like worms burrowing from the soil after
long rains. The deeper we travel the more confined the sound becomes,
smothered by the trees.
I notice that John's gotten quiet again. We
must be close.
There's a spot in the road where you can almost
make out a path, and John takes this. Just ahead, beyond a fallen
tree, I see a familiar headstone. John stops and looks at his
father's grave. His is the only stone in the cemetery. All other
graves are discernible only by small plastic markers pushed into
the ground, and by moss-covered earth sunken to delineate the
contours of the graves themselves. I notice that the money I'd
seen before is gone from the base of the stone.
John stares silently at his father's grave,
uncertain about going in. He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket
and wipes his eyes.
He's been crying and I haven't even noticed.
We stand for a minute, then step across the
fallen tree, John leading me to his father.
S Hurt 1892-1966
father's stone is simple, not much to look at. It certainly doesn't
hint at the richness of the man it shelters.
Neither of us say a word.
What I thought was quiet on the road is even
more so here. Those that lie in this soil, are indeed at rest. Through
a small clearing in the treetops, stars can shine down on gentle
evenings and light John Hurt's grave.
John sits down next to his father, almost hugging
the stone, and I sit at the foot of the grave on a piece of slate.
As quietly as possible I break the silence. "How
old were you when your father passed away?"
"I was thirty three. Nothirty four."
"Did a lot of people come out here that
"Mm-hmm." He inspects his fathers stone
and brushes some loose grass from its face. The ground is mostly
dirt and fallen leaves.
"Was he born in Avalon?"
"No. He was born in a place called Teoc,
but it was still in Carol County. Moved up here when he was eight
years old. When he started playin' guitar. Lived around where the
He sits silent for a moment before speaking again.
"I come out every so often to clean up and
all, you know?" he says, almost to himself. "I-I don't
mind comin'. But, you know, it just seem like he ought to be with
I nod. "It feels good to be here, but then
it doesn't feel good to be here."
"That's right," he says. "That's
just . . . that's just the way it is."
"Can you hear his music out here?"
"I always hear it. That's every day. I guess
it's no use to worry though. 'Cause that's not go'n brang him back.
But I cain't help it."
I ask him, "When you hear his music, does
it make you feel good?"
"It makes me feel good in a way. Then it
makes me feel . . . kinda bad in a way. You know, what I mean is,
to be sorry."
He turns his head away from me, towards the stone
which he lingers over, and I wonder what he's thinking, what he
sees in his mind right now. I see images of John Hurt from old photographs,
and add to them my own animations of him through his music. John's
must be those intimate details that we each carry of our fathers.
The way his father would rise in the morning for work, the way he
ate his breakfast, the whole waking ritual, the familiar laughter
and the remembered tread of his shoes on the plank floor, the smell
of his coat; all the little things that really nail a person down,
those sides shown only to family.
Hurt Jr. at his father's grave in Avalon, Miss.
probably be glad you're makin' music now." I say.
"Yeah. Yeah, prob'ly. He was seventy four
years old when he passed away. And he could get on both of his hands
and his feet and have a dance called the rabbit hop. Sounded like
he's beatin' the floors like doin' a drum. I mean he could get down
there good and jump. He really could do that!"
"Well, everybody in Avalon sure does love your father."
"Yeah. Yeah. He was just the samealways.
Just the same."
Silence again, the winds blow evenly above our
heads, but remain in the higher branches. There are long patches
of quiet, but they aren't uncomfortable.
He turns his red eyes up from his father's grave
and into my mine.
"Before he passed away," he says, "he
was out here hunting. Hunting squirrels in the woods, you know?
He said when he shot the gun, then that stroke come. Kinda twisted
his mouth a little bit. Not real bad, but just a little bit.
He made out to the road, where to go to the cemetery? And he say
he tried to whistle, he couldn't whistle. He say he tried to sing,
couldn't sing. And he didn't last long behind that."
His rock-steady eyes never waver from my own
while leaves whisper at our feet.
"I was livin' up here in the delta,"
he says. "I was up here that Monday night. And when I got ready
to leave, he told me that there wasn't no need to leave now. But
I didn't know what he was talkin' about. And that Wednesday the
cab driver, Tyree Trussel, he came and told me, say 'He gone.'
. . . It hurt me so bad . . . It hurt me so bad."
His tears fill my eyes and I am hushed by his
pain. After thirty years he still grieves for his father. Not for
the bluesman, Mississippi John Hurtbut for the father. A gentle,
"I loved my father. He was a great
"Yes. He was."
"I didn't want to see him go."
What can I say? I search for some small set of
words that won't be intrusive, yet might give him some comfort.
Knowing all the time that there are no words that can salve the
loss of his father.
"Do you like listening to his songs?"
"Yeah. I just loved to sit down in
his lap. I could sit down in his lap and he would play for me. But
he wouldn't learn me how to do it, you know. But I'd sit down in
his lap!" He smiles, wiping his tears on the arm of his jacket.
"What songs did you ask him to play?"
"I loved StaggerLee. That's my favo-rite
song! Yeah, I loved StaggerLee. I can see him right now in
He looks about the small burial ground and wipes
his eyes again.
"There was another song that him and momma
used to sing together: My True Love, I'll Forgive You Before
I Go. Momma would tenor, and daddy would do the alto! I loved
that," he says, laughing now.
"He was always, you know, alive and happy,"
I look up at the clearing above our heads and
think of those stars.
"He believed in Heaven?" I ask.
"Yeah. He was just like that. He was just
like that. He didn't like no kind of violence whatsoever. And if
you liked it, he didn't want to be around you."
I think his father would have liked it up here
where the sound hasn't invaded. There's only the swaying of trees,
and maybe the rabbit and squirrel he was fond of hunting. It fills
me with awe and a kind of strength to know that people from such
simple roots can touch so many.
"You ever just come out here and sit and
"No. But there's not a day pass that I don't
thank about him."
We get up and start to walk back. The light is
beginning to fail and we need to get the car unstuck. On the way
out John stops next to a branch sticking from the ground. He stands
without talking, then wipes his eyes again.
"My momma's buried here. I know she is because
I put this stick here, so I'll know. She don't have a stone yet,
but I'm go'n get her one. Someday."
Something dies inside of me. We stand there for
perhaps five minutes. John tells me that his daddy would play in
the St. James Church that once stood across the road from where
we are. He said that most people would pretend that they liked it,
and some didn't. His father would play the blues a little bit, too.
He remembers one woman who told his daddy that
he was going to send himself to Hell, playing the blues.
"My momma told him, she say, 'Listen, John,'
I heard her when she told him. She say, 'Listen John. There's people
goin' to Hell ain't never no seen a guitar!'" He laughs. "She
say, 'You've been goin' since God gave you that talent, so let's
go ahead on and do.'
"Yeah. I had a marvelous momma."