Tonight I am writing to you from Glasgow, Scotland. To tell the truth, I’m not exactly sure why I am here. Scotland has been on my bucket list for many years because, apparently, many of my ancestors are from this region. We are the Cameron clan. My great, great, great, great, etc. grandpa came from the Cameron clan of Glasgow and when he emigrated to America, he simply went by Robert Glasgow. Apparently his family were Covenanters and had to flee due to religious strife. They landed in Philadelphia by way of Northern Ireland between 1765-69 and then moved down to Virginia. He served in the Revolutionary War (as many Scottish Covenanter Immigrants did – they were against British rule and slavery) and in 1834 applied for a pension under the 1832 law but it may never have been granted. He moved to Ohio in 1805 and Grandfather Glasgow died in 1939 – at the dawn of the second world war. The Covenanters were being killed and persecuted in Scotland and many fled to Northern Ireland and then to America. America welcomed us. We are all immigrants here. So, my heart is breaking for those trying to enter my previously dear and welcoming country.
So am here to find my identity – my heritage? Maybe it is here, but I cannot see it directly, only in shadows and ghosts. Other ancestors, like the Wishards, the Sharps, Robert Steele Finley, and Phoebe and Jenny Jane Glasgow – Presbyterians all. I have an ancestor named Thomas McGriff (Who begat Patrick, who begat Commodor Parry who married Lena Bearl Clark who had my grandma Katie) who served in the Revolutionary War but I cannot trace the name McGriff to anything. Then there were those rumoured to be tipplers. Some from Scotland and some from France. That blood and penchant also runs directly down the generations.
Walking around this town today I see that it is old and new, full of cathedrals and pubs – just like in Iowa – though we call ours churches and bars. People struggle. There is a huge Sikh temple and a huge Muslim center. People take their religion and their whiskey very seriously here.
Yet, I am struck by a general lack of pretension in people of this place. A traffic cone on the head of the Duke of Wellington, a beautiful stationery store called The Scribbler, a high-end restaurant called Two Fat Ladies in the Buttery. There is a serious amount of silly here. I kinda love that. If there was one thing I’d like to take home from Glasgow it is this. More silly, irreverent behavior.
Too many of my ancestors lived such extreme lives and I have inherited that predilection. For me it has been religion – a born again Christian at age 11. An Atheist at 16. I dabbled in Buddhism and settled on no religion but a strong sense of spirit. Still I do go to an ashram to meditate for weeks at a time. In my culture that is pretty extreme. Luckily I have never had the family curse of alcoholism. Given the generations of alcoholics that have rolled down the mountain into my family, I am given to feel compassion for them while I’m here. The alcoholics here and the ones at home. I started learning Mr. Bojangles on the uke last night and cried and cried. Maybe more belonging and less possession (and judgement) is entering me subtly. Yes, I am from a long line of holy rollers and drunks. But that doesn’t totally define me. I struggle, I hope, I laugh, I cry – just like all my other ancestors, just like you…and in that way I certainly belong to this good old human family.
So, what am I doing here? Looking for my identity both as a member of my family going back generations, and as a singer. I may be getting some clue as a person. but so far, the music is not playing in my heart. I want to hear my vocal identity in the music of Scotland so I’m going to a Traditional Music Festival in a few days. I want to see it in the landscape or the eyes of the people. But I do not see it. Yet.
I brought my tenor ukulele and have only one original song for that instrument. I’m learning more covers and tonight I headed to the Necropolis to sing to the ancestors in the golden light of the sunset. My voice is ringing there now. Maybe as a gift to those long gone. I sang “La vie en rose.” Not an American song, not Scottish, French pop (dear Edith Piaf/Louiguy/Monnet). I also sang a song I wrote called “Higher Ground.” It seemed appropriate. This song is adapted from the melody and harmonies of an Australian lullaby in heard in the movie Australia. I wrote the words and adapted the melody. Singing it helps me to remember to be open and to connect with people, especially people who are different from me. I finished my little concert for the dead with “Sunny Side of the Street” (McHugh and Dorothy Fields). I alway sing it for my uncle Ival who died several years ago – a veteran and a drunk…also one of my favourite people in the world.
I want to go to the Royal Conservatory and introduce myself. To get into the practice rooms to prepare what? I want to have a years worth of bookings coming up. I have literally zero gigs coming up. I have not had a paid gig for over a year. So, I am probably putting too much pressure on this trip but I hope to find my way back to music here. Maybe my time of singing classical music is over. Maybe it is time to do my original songs and play the uke, piano, and guitar. Maybe I have taken my final bow left the stage. Maybe I have not yet started singing in my own voice. Maybe I never left it at all. Tomorrow…Edinburgh! I’ll keep you posted.