Image from https://meanmary.com/photos
When I was working on Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll, I created a playlist and listened to it while I was writing. It was quite useful with regard to my creativity.
Sadly, this has not been the case with the Saint Maggie series.
A couple of months ago I was messing around on YouTube. I have certain things I like to watch. Don’t most of us? As a Jack Black fan, I check to see when he’s put up the latest installment of Jablinksi Games. My other faves are K’eyush the Stunt Dog, a really talkative husky whose antics make me laugh, SNL, old Beatles videos, and Karolina Zebrowska (a historical fashion fanatic). Yes, I’m weird. And yes, I do like humor. And I love the Beatles because… well, they were and always will be “my” band.
Occasionally I also drop in on Abby the Spoon Lady who, well, plays the spoons. For some reason, I find spoon-playing fascinating. I think it’s probably because I’m rather uncoordinated and easily can imagine both spoons flying out of my hands after clacking them together once.
The YouTube analytic noticed that I appeared to enjoy old-timey music and suddenly this woman with a banjo popped up. Her name is Mean Mary and she was playing an instrumental piece called “Blazing.” I thought, “Interesting name.” Banjo music has never been my thing, but I watched the video and to my surprise loved it. I was mesmerized by how fast her fingers moved.
As a result, I began listening to her other music and learning a bit more about her life.
First off, there is nothing actually mean about Mean Mary James. According to her bio on meanmary.com, she was the youngest of six children, whose peripatetic parents moved from place to place and lived in a variety of settings, including a tent and a hand-built log cabin.
Early on Mary had a love for music and turned out to be gifted, learning “to read music before she could read words.” She wrote her first song with her Mom’s help before she entered Kindergarten. That song was “Mean Mary from Alabam.” Not surprisingly, the press took the moniker and ran with it.
Mean Mary recorded her first album when she was six and became proficient in banjo, guitar, and fiddle. Her performing career began in childhood and this meant she could not attend public school because she was on the road so much. So, she was home schooled and passed the state 12th grade equivalency test at the age of 9.
So there you are: child prodigy and genius.
The other thing that caught my notice was that Mary and her brother Frank began touring and performing historic folk music and music from the Civil War era. She’s got the hoop skirt to prove it, too. This, of course, endeared her to me, and so I began listening to more of her music, much of which has made my Saint Maggie playlist.
Here's "Blazing," the instrumental that caught my attention. Folks, I am a rocker. Aside from my nostalgic fits of Beatlemania, I listen to heavy metal and hard rock more than anything else. I never thought banjo music would pull me in, but the way Mary James plays and the variety of styles she employs did it.
But there’s another side to Mary James’ story besides talent and genius. She faced near death. That was followed by a debilitating injury, which she met with perseverance and faith.
One night, while riding in a friend’s small car, the driver lost control. The accident was horrific. Mary’s head crashed through the windshield and her neck hit the dashboard, twisting her neck so badly that her companion thought she had died.
But she hadn’t. The paramedics and the doctors at the hospital were able to save her life. But sadly, they couldn’t save her voice. Mary was told that the vocal chord on her right side had been paralyzed.
Not willing to give up music, Mary fought to recover physically and to get her voice back. At length, a doctor told her that he had observed some movement in right-side vocal chord. Determined, Mary booked a ton of performances. At them she sang when able and played her instruments when she couldn’t. And then… amazingly the vocal chord on her right side recovered.
That story says it all to me. Mean Mary is determined and strong and, yes, she has faith. In her story, I hear echoes of my character, Maggie.
Finally, Mary also writes novels with her mother, Jean. She's an author, too - yet another reason I like this woman. Go to the website at the top of this blog and check her out.
So, so a big thank you Mean Mary James, musician, Civil War buff, survivor, and fellow author, for giving me a soundtrack by which I am able write my series about a determined, faithful, and strong Civil War-era woman named Maggie. May you continue to inspire others the way you’ve inspired me.
Have a good weekend, all.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder