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April 9, 2008

Note Books - Kathy Mattea

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.

Kathy Mattea's new album, Coal, examines the both the human and ecological costs of coal mining through a carefully curated collection of songs. This is an album of tragedy, warning, and ultimately hope that change is possible if we work hard enough.

A strong advocate for miners' rights, ecology, and nonviolence, Kathy Mattea is a person (not only an artist) I admire greatly.

In his own words, here is the Note Books entry from Kathy Mattea:

David asked me about what I've been reading during this time I've been making Coal. I am currently reading Homer Hickam's new book Red Helmet...he wrote Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky. He also wrote beautiful liner notes for my new project, and we've become friends over the last couple of months. I have been working hard, though, so I am working my way through it sporadically, when I get the chance.

I have been reading a lot of books on Nonviolence lately. Back in West Virginia, where I'm from, in the coalfields, there is a huge controversy brewing, over the practice of Mountain Top Removal---basically strip mining on steroids. You can see pictures on

I began to learn more, flew over the sites with the Sierra Club, and then later with the coal coalition ("Friends of Coal"), and met some of the people who live near these mine sites, and some of the miners. It's a terrible dilemma, this practice that rapes the mountains and destroys the drinking water and quality of life for so many who are unfortunate enough to live around these mines.

I found myself in the middle of it all, and suddenly started feeling like I was just one more voice pointing fingers. I started studying nonviolent communication in an attempt to try to contribute something constructive, and work toward actual change, instead of ratcheting up the vitriol. Ghandi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world," and I think this is a great place to practice.

So, on my reading table at the moment: Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenburg. He's done conflict negotiation for 40 years, and trains people in this technique, and how nonviolence applies in everything from individual relationships, to social change initiatives. There's also a companion workbook I'm working through. I'm scheduled in May for a 9-day retreat to study with him.

Pema Chodron's book Practicing Peace in Times of War has been very helpful, as well.

I enjoyed Eckhart Tolle's new book so much I just turned around and started at page one again, I'm on my 2nd time through. It's called A New Earth.

Other helpful books: The Way to Love by Anthony DeMello, a radical, wonderful Jesuit priest who died in 1987.

I want to learn about holding a core of peace, and learning to speak with love and respect, even to people who are seemingly "enemies." I want to learn about holding our common humanity in focus, even when it's hard, and even when I'm afraid. I want to learn about Radical Humility.

So, that's what I've been thinking about lately. Thanks for asking, David.

Kathy Mattea and Coal links:

Kathy Mattea's website
Kathy Mattea's Wikipedia entry
Kathy Mattea's MySpace page

Blogcritics review of Coal
Bluegrass Journal review of Coal
Music Road review of Coal
No Depression review of Coal
Popmatters review of Coal
Slant review of Coal
songs:illinois review of Coal
Twang Nation review of Coal
Washington Post review of Coal

Huntington Herald-Dispatch profile of Mattea
USA Today profile of Mattea

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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