Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).
I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I'll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away)
I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).
Just a few more weary days and then,
I'll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away)
I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

My buddy Boyd is what you'd call gregarious. He's at home in a crowd and in front of one. He knows how to hold an audience captive, sometimes more literally than figuratively. He hypnotizes and fascinates mankind with his smooth, booming baritone coating words which slip off his tongue like warm bourbon.

But Boyd is more than a gifted orator, or a talented powder and demo man. He's more than Harlan's new kingpin and resident bad-ass. He can pick a banjo better'n anyone I know. His aunt gave him a tired, old rosewood Martin d'28 flattop that was gathering dust in her attic. You'd think it was solid gold, the way he polished it and tuned it's strings with painstaking precision.

With just a few chords of Rocky Top or Bringing Mary Home, you can't tear your eyes off him. You can't help but tap your toes when he beams one of those big, toothy grins that reaches all the way up to his eyes. When he sings or clogs around while he plays, he truly is a one man show.

Sometimes I would get out grandpa's old six string and play along. My fingers barely settled into the grooves his huge bear-paw hands wore into the tattered mahogany neck.

The heirloom wood felt as good in my hands as a grip of my Glock does now.

I could feel Grandpa Givens' pulse in the strings as I strummed. I could hear his voice in my head as we played old hymns. I could almost smell his aftershave and the traces of his home brew lingering on his good preachin' clothes though he tried his damnedest to protect 'em at the still for Grandma.

When we were boys, Boyd and I would sneak out to that still in the dead of night with our instruments and our best girls. We'd all sing and drink and dance knee-deep in the damp bluegrass as the pale moon cast a silvery blanket over the Kentucky hillside, fireflies pointing the way to the cool, clean creek when things got too serious.

I can even remember a time when our daddies were still getting along and we'd head over to the Crowder's for dinner. The visits were really designed so then patriarchs could talk business, but law enforcement could be fooled easier back then. Come to think of it, Bo probably had them on the payroll.

In any case, we'd eat some of Mrs. Crowder's famous home style fried chicken and collard greens, have a few shots of Mountain Dew—even Boyd and I, though we couldn't have been more'n fifteen—then the men would go out to the woodshed to talk. Boyd and I would talk about comics and sports for a while and Momma and Mrs. Crowder would clean up and sing while they baked dessert.

After a while, we'd all retire to the porch and play a song or two for the Crowder's hound dog, Luke, and the crickets. I remember Arlo's calloused knuckles ensconcing a harmonica and the twisted and scarred digits of his left hand holding the spoons with as much ease as they'd hold a metal pipe or belt. I also recall that these visits were numbered among the few times studying his hands didn't leave me quaking for fear and gasping for air.

Bo played the fiddle with as much anger and intensity as he did everything else. His fingers worked furiously across the strings. He still had some unlucky bastard's blood caked beneath his stubby nails, mingling with used motor oil and cocaine.

Even big, dumb Bowman had some talent for music. He'd keep the time with his stand up bass, though it was missing a string and he had to hold his tongue a certain way and tap his toe to keep the cadence.

Momma's laugh would echo off the mountainside. Her face glowed in the diffuse, incandescent blush of the bare porch bulb as she and Mrs. Crowder would sway and clap and sing a round.

Then Momma ran off to Nobles' Holler and Mrs. Crowder took up with a car salesman from Detroit. Arlo got meaner'n I thought possible. Then, he and Bo had a falling out over what was a fair wage for a leg-breaker in an increasingly dangerous and ballsy county.

The music stopped. There is nothing lonelier than a warm, moonlit valley night with no music. I left Harlan. I took Helen's money and vanished like the breeze. Boyd followed suit soon thereafter.

Sometimes I wish I could sit and play a song with Boyd like old times at Grandpa's still. But like Grandpa and his still, Momma, happiness and innocence, that time and place is gone.

It exists only in memories and water-stained Polaroids.

There are too many miles, long years and too much bad blood between us. I don't know if I should greet him with a warm embrace or a loaded gun now.

Still, sometimes when I'm in a puddle, sipping on too much overpriced, watered-down whiskey and the jukebox crackles to life with a low-fidelity forgotten bluegrass tune... if I screw my eyes closed tight and focus, I can almost feel the dew on my feet, the cool mountain air tousling my hair and Momma's slender fingers drumming softly on my knee.