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A Tinker’s Cuss – Jim Wilson’s Blog, 11/04/16

Jim Wilson’s Blog, 11 April 2016.


My dad never went to WW2. He was a tractor driver on a farm up the Pig Root in Otago and he was either excluded because we in New Zealand needed to keep the farms going or his broken lungs stopped him. My dad was an asthmatic and he gasped for breath his whole life through and more so when he felt lonely or misunderstood.

I remember being vaguely embarrassed about my dad not going to war when I was a kid in Dunedin in the 1950s.

My uncle went. He was with the 23rd Battalion. His records show that he went to Scotland in 1940 and then in early March 1941 he arrived in Egypt. Egypt was quite a curly place at the time and my uncle served 14 days field punishment in late April that year for drunkenness. I am quite proud of this because if there’s one thing you want to do when you are young it’s that you want to flare up with your mates.

My uncle came home in 1943 after being medically discharged and he could never put a sentence together again for his whole life. His discharge address was the Clarendon Hotel in McLaggan Street, Dunedin.  I’d say that’s mighty staunch.

My family moved into Dunedin from the country in around 1950, a year or two before I was born. My Uncle Les loaned my parents the money to put a deposit on a house in Russell Street. My uncle’s records show that he was given a gratuity of 144 pounds, 16 shillings and sixpence. I think this is how much El Alamein was worth. That’s a hell of a way to earn money.

My parents moved into town because by the early 1950s there were three kids at high school and this was getting expensive on a farm labourer’s wage. My mum cooked for the single men who worked on Shag Valley Station and that didn’t pay much either.

I was the late-comer to the family. I was born in Dunedin and I will always be born in Dunedin.

My closest sister was twelve years old when I was born and now she is dying.

I was ‘Sweet Baby James’ and my two oldest sisters who were 16 and 17 years old when I was born loved me to bits. My brother who was fourteen when I was born was the best mate I ever had. He showed me how to love people and he once stood up on a table at a pub in South Dunedin and lead the whole bar in ‘We Shall Overcome’. This was in about 1963 or 1964 and during the American ‘Civil Rights’ era.

When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes say that I was a ‘mistake’ and my father would sometimes say that I was ‘nobody’s bastard’. This was because they were unhappy. People are sometimes cruel to other people when they are unhappy. I’ve never seen a happy person be cruel to anyone else in my whole life.

My brother died in a tractor accident in a road gang out near Ravensbourne when I was fourteen. My two eldest sisters died of cancer within a month of each other in 1989. In 1990, I sweated out the methadone working on a farm about seventy miles out of Nashville, Tennessee. I cried every day for my sisters and I gradually got back on my feet.

My old man worked in the store at Fletcher Steel in Dunedin when I was a kid and every single day of his life he got up and went to work. We moved to Christchurch when I was fourteen and my dad was working for Stainless Castings by then and they took him north. There were a lot of flies in Christchurch and it was really hot.

I love my mum and my dad.

My Uncle Bertie owned a milk bar in Palmerston in Otago and my Uncle Jim clicked tickets on the trains for the New Zealand Railway Service. I am dead proud of my family and they could never do a single thing to set me against them, not then and not now.

Even though my parents always voted for the Labour Party I think my dad knew that no political party could ever save him from his own propensity for depression. My mother was a passionate, fiery, tempestuous and very mischievous woman and there are just not enough adjectives in this life to describe her. But she couldn’t be like this in front of my dad and so she learned to hold herself back in almost all her expressions. I know she loved me when I did bad stuff and she loved me more when I eventually got to jail. I enjoyed jail and I made some of the best mates of my life in there. I also created a lot of mischief. One day I saw a homemade Molotov Cocktail (model airplane glue, glass milk bottle, somebody’s shitty underpants stuck in the neck of the bottle, add fire) explode on a wall about three feet away from a screw’s head. Trust me, it’s amazing what you can get to enjoy if you try.

My sister who is dying now is probably the one who I loved the most. She didn’t like me when I came along because she was twelve and I got all the limelight. She gave me ‘War & Peace’ to read when I was six and she used to play piano in our lounge. When Dunedin got its first big mainframe computer sometime in the early 1960s she was working at the Dunedin City Council and she aced an intelligence test and got to work on it doing data input, I guess. She got her photo on the front page of the Otago Daily Times.

My dad never went to high school but he quoted Shakespeare all the time. He’d say, over and over, that the quality of mercy is not strained. I think he basically missed working on the farm by himself and to this day, I still feel like I’m a country boy myself. I love Nashville like you can’t believe. I miss Nashville and specifically the Nashville piano sound every single day of my life but I can never tell what I’m yearning for, whether it is Nashville itself or my mum and my dad or my brother or my sister who is currently dying.

Even though I’ve had a wild and tempestuous life myself I was always really just some kind of hippie. I think the difference was that I never really cut my hair. My mum used to tell me to stick to my guns and so I have. You can hurl a sidewinder missile at me but it’s really my choice as to whether or not I hate you back. Sometimes I think the internet was invented because people had a real need to spit at each other.

I put up posters against the Vietnam war in the 1970s and I am sometimes upset about this now because I have met a lot of American servicemen who were badly hurt in that war, but I’ve also been to Vietnam and I’ve seen the immense damage there as well. I think the damage is called ‘Capitalism’.

I also put up hundreds if not thousands of posters against the Springboks tour of NZ in the early 1980s. I once pasted up posters on the side of a bus in Cathedral Square in Christchurch with my great mate Harry Sparkle.

I am going to miss my sister. She’s a fiery one and I have always been attracted to women like that. You could never depend on my sister to say the right thing in any circumstance. She’d only ever really tell the truth. We are a thousand million miles apart and yet emotionally I can hear her heart beat. This is what has been getting me down lately. You see I want to go home to Russell Street and start the whole goddamn thing over again and have us all sing a Hank Williams song and for my dad to look at me and smile and for my sister to hit them keys Nashville style. I want my sister and my mum to calm down and I want a mother’s love strong and secure. That’s all a little boy needs to get through this man’s life.

But I’ve learned that life is a long hard song and most things are a long way easier than being in the front line at El Alamein.

It’s ANZAC Day on April 25th. Buy a poppy because… Well just because the quality of mercy is not strained. Whatever you are going through in your poor forsaken life someone else is going through worse or the same. The exact worse or the same.

Them Nashville cats, been playin’, since they’s babies.


Jim and Sister


A Tinker’s Cuss – Jim Wilson’s Blog, 06/05/15

Jim Wilson’s Blog, 6 March 2015


The bloke in the photograph with me is Terry, an old style hillbilly from Tennessee. Me and Terry shared a single-wide in a trailer park off the Calfkiller Road in Cookeville, Tennessee during the winter and spring of 1991.

I was struggling to get ‘clean’ from narcotics at the time and going to lots of 12 Step meetings and the like. Terry had supposedly been free of drugs for about three years, but shortly after I moved in I found that he had burgled some kind of motorcycle shop and was selling the leather jackets and doing a roaring trade. He was also selling Dilaudid (like a kiss from an angel Dilaudid is) and handguns. These days I think junkies sell rocket-propelled grenades.

Sleeping on the lounge floor in the trailer was a 17 year old Indian ‘squaw’ called Rachel and Terry would say: “Get you some of that.” Rachel’s boyfriend, Billy, was in a juvenile jail at the time. Billy was a real good bloke and a quintessential and qualitative hillbilly type, but Rachel and Billy just couldn’t hold it together and it was like a mule talking to a fish.

When the drugs and alcohol step into a person’s life in the way they did for Rachel and Billy, then being just one day clean is a mind altering and genuine miracle.

There is much less of a social welfare system in the USA than in New Zealand and so when an addict hits ‘rock bottom’ it tends to go deeper and deeper. It is hard to know what to do, but I think drug addiction is strangling much of society and we need to find out why these people are unhappy. Because I’m ‘old school’, I think they actually are unhappy and that there is no glamour in drug addiction. Keith Richards or no Keith Richards.

You want to smoke a joint? Fine. That’s not drug addiction as I know it.

While I was living with Terry I met another hillbilly at an AA meeting and he saved my life. I worked on his lifestyle farm for about a year. He was a tough gentleman who had been of quite a substantial rank in the US Army. I built up my ‘clean time’ and became fit and healthy again. I received constant care and love from a staunch group of people for the longest time and I became less afraid. I was then more capable of making new friends and they sustained me and still do. These people are on a different pathway in life to the black suited demons that I used to hang around with. Evil is as evil does. No question about that. Watch what they do because they are still doing it.

I met my good mate Russell Pirie in about 1973 in Christchurch. We shot a lot of speed together and my overwhelming memory of him is that soon after we met we were in Cashel Street on his Suzuki 500. It was a bright and sunny Christchurch day and the Garden City is world class on days like this and y’all know that.

On this day, the speed that we had been shooting had made us paranoid and Russell thought he saw a cop (Jim Marshall, head of the drug squad at the time) and so he gunned the bike through town. He didn’t stop until we were crouched behind a rock somewhere out in Ferrymead and shooting speed again. I have no idea how we explained that to ourselves. I also think Jim Marshall was in Queenstown at the time.

Russell was an adopted kid of part Maori descent (but raised by white people) and I have noticed over time that adopted kids sometimes have a harder time of it and quite a few become addicts. They often have no sense of attachment and have shaky lives because of that fact.

Russell did a detention centre leg and he may have done two or three borstals in Invercargill. Then he might have done a small one in Paparua. I honestly can’t remember, but I do know that he did at least one borstal and something in Pap. He was dead proud of all of this. He was a real good looking bloke and with a heart of gold, but I think he was looking desperately for something his whole life through. We shared girlfriends, we shared needles, we did all that good stuff and we were ‘attached’ as much as we could be. When you’re racing down Ferry Road on a Suzuki 500 at 75mph, or more, then you are definitely attached.

At one point in Christchurch we were all having a hard time getting a decent supply of opiates and speed and so Russell became hooked on barbiturates (Tuinal, Seconal, Nembutal). Doctors used to throw these in the streets for all comers like it was all a lollie scramble. They (the doctors and drugs companies) also kept inventing these drugs that supposedly cured drug addiction and each one was worse than the last. I got out alive (today) how about you?

Here are a couple of Russell Pirie stories from this period of time:

Russell ‘stepped out’ the whole public bar in Warners Hotel in Christchurch one day. This was where the Polynesians drank at the time and Russell woke up on the South Brighton bus stop several hours later.

One time Russell, high on barbiturates, dove into a swimming pool. Unfortunately, the pool was empty and Russell suffered quite severe injuries. He climbed out and dived in again. Broken collarbones were his forte. He had a passion for self-degradation. Junkies often do. Hard to arrest that.

At one stage in 1975 I burgled a chemist shop and there was pure Heroin in it. My co-offender and I were hot (I was on bail for other chemist shop burglaries at the time) and so we ended up dividing the dope in Russell’s flat down England Street. This was as far away from the cops as we could get and it wasn’t very far.

Whilst we were dividing the jar of Heroin over a Formica counter, some was spilling. We were in a hurry of course and Russell was scratching up what we were spilling. He shot it and overdosed and turned blue on the floor he did.

At the time Russell was going out with ‘Bill’ Rowling’s daughter and Wallace was Prime Minister of New Zealand. Russell had been to government house and had fallen asleep in the spaghetti bolognese at dinner which he, of course, found to be hilarious. I still laugh about it myself.

In England Street, down by the famous England Street hall, Bill’s daughter (Janey?) was on the floor trying to force a fish tank hose down Russell’s throat to help him breathe. My co-offender and I beat the feet as junkies worldwide like to do. My co-offender died of a Heroin overdose in Warner’s Hotel the next night. The cops came and got me to identify the body, wouldn’t you?

But, Russell lived and went on to shoot some guy dead with a gun in Christchurch some years later as part of a drug deal. That’s closing the deal for sure. He ended up doing ‘life’ in Paremoremo and a lot of it in ‘D Block’. I visited him from time to time and he never stopped laughing. Good Christ we laughed.

He got out (a life sentence at the time was anywhere between 10-15 years) and received some sort of payment through ACC as we all have done in our time. It’s a bad move for an addict to use such funds to get a Harley Davidson and Russell came off that bike in South Brighton and il est mort. I miss him, of course I do, I still laugh sometimes when I think of what we did.

“Addiction” is a savage ‘disease’ and there are many strands to it. People often hurt themselves and many times they laugh. They have strange and unusual accidents and even years after they have been ‘clean and sober’. The devil follows them closely and makes smash and grab attempts at taking them back to what they managed to leave and with a great deal of grief and sorrow to boot.

There are various branches and subsets of the disease of addiction and I must say I have often found some clean and sober people to be more difficult than ‘using’ junkies who tend to get to the truth and quickly. But, you know, the quality of mercy is never strained…

I am glad I have moved forward. I do (as they say) get by with a little help from my friends. Here’s to you, Russell Pirie…





Diary of a Billsticker – Tennessee/Kentucky, USA Poster Run

A Hillbilly Fight Club


Delta Airlines mistakenly sent my luggage all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, whereas I was flying into Music City, USA (Nashville, Tennessee). So, my guitar case with broom and paste was no longer available and I felt lost without my heavy-duty industrial lamp-post poster stapler. In fact, I only had about fifteen Mariana Isara poetry posters on me so I set about trying to introduce these to as many people as possible.

One makes what one can of difficult situations and one always looks up to and desires what might and could be. That’s what they’d say in the Blessed South of the USA. In other words, I was as happy as a bird with a French fry; my glass was half full, and in fact, overflowing in a very Anthony Robbins way. Dude (a motivationalist) thinks he can fly and probably also thinks that all banks should be deregulated because that’s freedom! Little does he know how many rats work in banks.

The opposite of this view is that August 20th (last Friday) was the anniversary of the day in 1968 when 500,000 Warsaw Pact Troops (we used to call them “Com Block”) flooded into the Czech Republic when they got wind of the fact that someone was trying to get ahead. Then, you might notice that right now (it’s in the New York Times today), a number of writers in South Africa are jumping up and down as the government (the writers say) is censoring the news. You think?

So, whom to believe?

Don’t tell me: one meets the new boss and he’s exactly the same as the old boss?

In Tennessee, what I did about all of this is I went about the area talking to people about New Zealand poetry and art. This is what I’ve decided to do in life. I try to no longer debate the point (any point) and I just try to commit to some form of action.

There’s just too much loose talk in this old world and Facebook is like the main street of Deadwood. We all know this. As someone once said to Al Swearenge, “First you have the emotion, Al, and then you look around for a reason to be having it.” Well, your emotions are in your blood, Al! They are in John Key’s blood as well. Though hell. I do feel sad for old Aotearoa. God’s own Country, I swear. Today I miss the West Coast of the South Island.

But a month back I was lucky enough to be travelling around Tennessee and Kentucky for a few days, mainly off the beaten track, in the hills. You have to really respect this area because it gave the world so much good music. There’s nothing clearer than that.

It has been my experience that most politicians want to be rock stars. I’ve met a few. Then most rock stars want to be politicians. I’ve listened to them too. But it wouldn’t have been just anybody who could do what Hank Williams did, nor Dwight Yoakam, nor Miss Patsy Cline.  These were people who were not (and are not in Dwight’s case) mediocre.

I have a friend in Tennessee, let’s call him ‘J.P.’ I like J.P. Damn I do. I’ve been lucky enough to know him since he was three or four years old.  I had the best year of my life in Tennessee in 1990 when I worked hauling rocks out of a mountain and J.P. did this with me. Small as he was then. He was tough. They are tough in the South (they’ve had some shit and, as you know, they’ve given it too) and they’re vulnerable too (think Hank Williams). But mostly they are just upfront and they are people of action. They’ve had some stuff in their own behaviour to come to terms with.

In the South, the beauty is that people often think in very simple ways and few of them are “yoga experts”. The whole place is not given over to academics, politicians, and “spin”.  Down there, people more often just say and do what they think. They keep it simple. There’s a lot less discussion, and people are quite up-front, though with incredibly good manners (there are exceptions to every rule). I’d paste up posters with these guys any day. Political Correctness is kept in the outhouse. That’s where it should be as it is the most stifling element of life today. Let’s see action. That’s an old Who song and the lyrics are outstanding and have you ever seen a joker play drums like Keith Moon?

I haven’t.

Mariana’s poem (‘Self-portrait as Anything from the Album: Your Body Above Me’) is excellent by the way. I’m very proud to have her onboard for the Phantom Billstickers Poetry Project. We just try and win over one person at a time with poetry and it’s all one brick on top of the other. Next year we have bigger plans providing the glass is still overflowing. We’d like it to be.

J.P. is a good fighter. He’s a man of action, see. Sometime last year he was at home hoovering and cleaning his house one night. He got a call. J.P.’s a sweet kid. Still is. There was a dude down at a local hillbilly night club (they have these in Tennessee) who slapped $500 on the table and said he’d fight anyone.  J.P.’s mate told him to come down, J.P. said he would. I think he finished his hoovering first. I like J.P. because he puts first things first. He’s not the biggest guy in the world (but he’s not small either), and he said afterwards that if he knew what the guy at the night club looked like, then he wouldn’t have gone down. But he didn’t know and so he went, awfully primal this. J.P. is fast. This is all beginning to remind me of the Clash album “Cut the Crap.” Man, there’s heaps around, crap that is. I put up posters. Other people express these things in different ways, some are pacifists. There’s no point to war, we all know this, but man there’s plenty of wars. Sad that is.

Poetry is uplifting.

You know the end of the story: J.P. went down and blitzed the dude and got the $500. J.P. and the other bloke are friends now and there’s some respect there. They both know where each other is “coming from.” William Burroughs famously talked about the Naked Lunch being where everyone could see what was on the end of the fork. Wouldn’t you like to see it all clearly if you could? But you turn on TV and you see Charlie Sheen and then you see Lindsay Lohan and then it’s followed by some politician ripping off the world and getting away with it.

So I managed to introduce a few people to New Zealand poetry and I really enjoyed it. That’s the kicks and my kicks and hopefully your kicks too, and that’s what makes a difference to me. Hope it does for you too.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

35a   35c 35d 35e 35f

A New Jersey Hillbilly/Jim Ledbetter/Nashville Cats

I am writing some commentary to James Floyd’s poem ‘Wasted Flowers’ which is the Phantom Billstickers poem of this week. I was in Nashville, Tennessee this last week and if any place can be spiritual to me it is this part of the dear and blessed South. In terms of that pleasant and grounded feeling, Nashville comes close to Dunedin in old Aotearoa and which I miss. I miss the town belt of Dunedin and all those trees (Queen’s Drive) which seem to be of a completely unique colour in terms of this world. This good world will never let you down (or will it?) and Nashville never does. I even found a new country singing star, Chris Knight. Boy, is he good. In a world where 90% of music is mediocre, I am always happy to hear a good one.

That old Ford Crown Victoria has never disappointed me yet and the door wouldn’t unlock before I left. I took it into my local gas station here in New Jersey. I mean a man might have to evacuate his vehicle pretty quickly at times, who can tell? The gas station owner (Mike) of Cifelli’s Sunoco unlocked it and threw the locking mechanism on the back seat like it was disgusting and shameful to have to lock a car. At the same time, Mike was telling me about a house that was for sale here recently and how he overheard two women discussing it whilst getting their cars filled with that precious petroleum. The stuff we are ruining the earth with. One of the women said she wouldn’t want to own the house in question because there were only five bathrooms and her family was six. Mike said, “What, does everybody take a shit at the same time?”

Mike also said that the Afghanistan war couldn’t be won because “what’s to win?” I couldn’t agree more. It’s just another case of men gone wild and having to stomp other men.

Now all that’s New Jersey hillbilly wisdom. Hillbillies (simple people) are everywhere if you look.

That car ran on eight cylinders all the way and it is one sweet ride.


On to Jim Ledbetter:

Jim Ledbetter came off a methadone habit by locking himself in his car in Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee. He had nowhere else to go. He no longer had a house and probably few friends and this whole business (getting clean) was now merely between him and God. Of course if you were to count on anyone when the chips are down like that, then God would be the one. James Floyd’s excellent poem is for people like Jim Ledbetter and I feel I knew Jim well. As far as James Floyd goes, you can find him on Youtube under The Jefferson Street Poet.

I’m bound to say that it would have been cold there in Centennial Park and I know that every part of Ledbetter’s body would have shook from one door of that old car (it was a Chevrolet) to the other door as he got clean and got himself right with God, because that’s where he got. God cleaned the slate for Jim to start over again. Then, God didn’t let him down for the four years he was clean.

I love that country music in Nashville. One time I was walking down the street in my ‘Charlie One Horse’ Cowboy hat (the ‘Mama Tried’ model) and a car pulled up and the driver asked me if I was there to record a country record?

Jim Ledbetter, having proved himself to be a qualitative and deeply decent human being, died recently of a heart attack and that’s why I’m writing this.

Guys like Jim who make a comeback have a lot to offer the world and Jim did his fair share and more of good work. I salute him. Anyone who has gotten himself involved in the drug war (it’s bigger than Afghanistan and twice as unpopular) and has gotten clean. Well, there’s a life’s work and then some. There should be a congressional medal for it.

I won’t say much more about the drug war except that it is universal these days. No doubt the Afghanistan poppy crop was up again this year (and that’s with 100,000 troops in the country) and the Mexican city of Juarez has 250 drug-related murders a month now. It’s not the Somme yet but it will be. People will do incredibly craven-hearted things for money and drugs is where the money is. One time federal officers asked famous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks and his reply was “that’s where the money is.”

There’s a remake/remodel of the Parthenon in Centennial Park, Nashville. Those Nashville Cats been playing since they were babies (I say this as an aside). Now I’m not really up on my Greek History (the original Parthenon was in Athens in Ancient Greece) but I think Socrates drove everyone mad by asking questions that pointed out the answer’s hypocrisy. People in power don’t usually like this sort of thing, they’ll even legislate against you and call in an endless supply of bureaucrats. I think they poisoned Socrates in Ancient Greece because they couldn’t stand the truth. Maybe I’ve got this all wrong and possibly I’m actually thinking of Martin Luther King who was shot because he told the truth. Boy, the truth is best for people in the long run but it’s hard getting there. You might even get your ass shot off. Still, it’s not all as hard as hanging out in an old Chev in Centennial Park. That’s true grit. That’ll make a man out of you and it’s remarkably honest. You’d stand tall after that and Jim Ledbetter did.

He was a true friend to everyone who knew him and a beacon of hope.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

Diary of a Billsticker – Knoxville, Tennessee USA

Jim Wilson here, I own Phantom Billstickers.

On Monday August 17th, my friend George and I set off to do a poster run in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The significance of the date of this run is that it was 32 years and one day after Elvis Presley died.

I always remember what Elvis said about Memphis, Tennessee, he said: “They asked me what I missed about Memphis, and I said ‘everything.'” He must have said that when he was in the army or on tour. I love Tennessee. I love many things about it and particularly the music.

It was a really hot day (30 degrees Celsius) and the drive from Cookeville, Tennessee to Knoxville takes about an hour and a half. It’s always good travelling with George as we have a great rapport and I’ve always thought that one of the best things you can do with a person is a poster run. True character will come out. Walls will come down. Postering is a pretty genuine pass-time. It is a very earthly occupation. The bonus is that it works.

Knoxville is a beautiful city to me. What I love about it is an old downtown district which the local city council doesn’t seem to have taken the easy route to repair. The easy route would be to ‘town plan’ it to hell and whack in as much chrome as possible, then to have consultants and lawyers standing on every street corner with one stated objective: to suck the life out of the area and make the place as bland as possible. Maybe a few shopping malls would go in. In Knoxville, you have many people with unique businesses in that downtown area and it has become very interesting. You have lots of bright-eyed young people. You have good clubs and venues and my favourite is the ‘Pilot Light’ (New Zealand’s D4 played there a few years back).

We postered for our New Zealand poets (Bill Direen and Otis Mace) and also for Jeffery McCaleb from Cookeville, Tennessee. Knoxville doesn’t seem to have any legal poster sites and we just went on to what seemed to be time honoured sites. We used a broom and glue and also cello-tape in some areas. Staple guns are used on construction sites.

It took us about two or three hours walking around in the heat to put up one hundred posters, usually only four or six in a site. At the end of the run, I know we had made a big difference and George and I were both smiling. I get no greater joy than helping people in the Arts to be heard. The thing about postering is that you get to see instant and genuine results.

I am now in Lambertville, New Jersey. I am partway through a poster run of Janet Frame and Geoff Cochrane poem posters (and some Bill Direen and Otis mace ones thrown in as well). I shall report more on this in a few days.



Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson