Happy Birthday, Katie Lee

Katie Lee will be 95 on October 23.

Activist Katie Lee

Katie Lee is a vibrant, energetic and eloquent 95-year old singer, author and activist. Photo: Katie Lee archives

Ever since Glen Canyon was buried by Reservoir Powell in the nineteen sixties, Katie Lee has sung, stomped, photographed, written about, fought to restore the magic of Glen Canyon and to let the Colorado River run free. She is venerated as the most flamboyant of knights among a growing legion of pro-wilderness activists. She refers to the reservoir as ‘Loch Latrine’ and ‘Rez Foul.’ Her auto license plate reads ‘Dam Dam.’

Katie Lee: Wild Riding Career

Katie had an eclectic and wild-riding career. She began her professional career in 1948 as a stage and screen actress. She performed bit parts in motion pictures in Hollywood; had running parts on major NBC radio shows, including The Great Gildersleeve and The Railroad Hour with Gordon McRae; was a pioneer actress and folk music director on The Telephone Hour with Helen Parrish in the early ’50’s; she left Hollywood to spend ten years as a folk singer in coffeehouses and cabarets throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

When I met her in 1980, she was the foremost documentarian of cowboys and their songs in western ranching circles.

One of the best histories ever written about cowboys.

“A beautiful job, exact, comprehensive and witty. Should remain a basic history of the subject for many year to come.” – Edward Abbey.

She brings them to life in her book Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle: A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse; and in her recording Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle. The book might have been a bestseller among ranchers if goddam hadn’t been part of the title. Ranchers are a conservative and religious lot. My entreaties to change it would be met with angry expletives followed by “It’s the title of a famous cowboy song.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, Katie performed at cowboy poetry gatherings in Ruidoso, New Mexico; Medora, North Dakota; and Elko, Nevada, among others. Those festivals revived the West’s great legacy of cowboy songs, which are different from the songs sung at country western music festivals, which Katie loathes. “Country and Western is neither,” she once told me in an interview for an article I wrote for Sing Out! (a folk song magazine). “Its lyrics are about tight miserable places like phone booths, dingy bars, and stuffy bedrooms and some poor twit whose wife or girlfriend just dumped him.” She dismissed country superstar Waylon “f*#!ing” Jennings, “He wouldn’t know a cowboy from a cow.”

There’s no mistaking what Katie feels about anything. “Tact is a f*#!ing waste of time,” she once told me.

Her books, Glen Canyon Betrayed and Sandstone Seduction and recordings “Folk Songs of the Colorado River” and “Colorado River Songs,” and DVD, Love Song to Glen Canyon are paeons to the magic of a canyon now lost under the waters of Reservoir Powell.

Cover illustration by Serena Supplee, renowned artist of the Colorado Plateau. www.serenasupplee.com

Cover illustration by Serena Supplee, renowned artist of the Colorado Plateau. http://www.serenasupplee.com

“Why Glen Canyon,” I asked her over lunch one day, I was hoping my question would take her by surprise and that she might give me an answer that was not in her books. Without even a pause, she said, “Because Glen Canyon is always present in my mind, it’s hardly ever in my dreams. It’s as if my feet are still stuck in the sand at the edge of the river. It’s where I live. This other life I walk around in all day—well, that’s a passing thing. And in many ways it’s my defense against the sadder mechanisms of life around us. And God knows we all need those mechanisms from keeping ourselves from going crazy in this mad world.”

Katie Lee 1971

Jerome in 1971 scarcely looked like it does today. Big buildings were in decay. The Little Daisy had no roof and no windows; the old hospital was boarded up; the deterioration of the Victorian houses on Company Hill were symbols of the ghost town Jerome was purported to be. Although the population never dipped below 200, journalists portrayed it as one most famous ghost towns of the West.

Iconic view of Jerome AZ from the old cemetery. Photo by Bob Swanson (www.swansonimages.com)

View of jerome from an old cemetery. Photo by Bob Swanson (www.Swansonimages.com)

Here’s how Katie Lee described moving to Jerome 1n 1971.

“Betty Bell had a gallery uptown and it was her fault I was here. She knew of a house for rent. ‘No way I’m going to live on damaged earth. It’s a dead town.’ ‘Yeah,’ said Betty, ‘but you’ll love the price.’ I went to see it. Ninety dollars a month was way less than the $250 a month I paid in Sedona. There was black and white linoleum in the front entrance, and one wall was painted the most god-awful purple with green trim. It was the most horrible color combo I’d ever seen. The windows faced down the gulch, which looked like an ugly junk pile. I paid the rent, moved my furniture and plants, put my bags down, and handed the keys to the only two guys I knew and asked them to please water my plants. Then I headed to Princeton, New Jersey, to begin another tour of the United States as a folk singer.” (From the book: Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City)

 Katie Lee: Career Milestones in 2014

The year 2014 marks three major milestones in Katie Lee’s career: she’s featured in two major documentaries and published a new book. A special edition of black and white art photographs highlights Katie’s 37-year old nude body in Glen Canyon. No wonder Katie is in a triple tizzy.

Producer ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched is a gut-wrenching documentary about the community of activists that were inspired by the work of Edward Abbey, who wrote so eloquently about the lonesome and beautiful places of the Southwest. (www.wrenched-themovie.com)

"Wrenched"-the film

Cover of the DVD of ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched.

DamNation documents the loss of America’s endangered rivers and the dams that block them. www.damnationfilm.com

DamNation

The film “DamNation” is a documentary about the adverse effects of dams

Katie sings and talks her way into the heart of the films, grabbing viewers emotionally.

Hite Marina before Glen Canyon Reservoir

The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, published in 2014 by Dream Garden Press, is a triple love story: the characters that lived around Dandy Crossing, now Hite Marina, before the river rose to drown it; the love of the beauty of Glen Canyon that would soon be drowned; and Katie’s love affair with a cowboy/miner that lived at Hite. Katie is one of the few writers whose words can weave us into the magic spell that the canyons of the southwest have—and this book does it very well. The book is one of the few historical documents about the life lived in Hite Canyon before the dam before it was flooded by Glen Canyon dam.

Katie Lee near Dandy Crossing

The cover of Katie Lee’s book published in 2014 by Dream Garden Press (Salt Lake, Utah).

Naked Katie: Classic Portraits

Anyone who has ever hiked or boated with Katie in the wilderness knows she will shed her clothes as quickly as she possibly can, and not put them on again until she gets close to her car. In her words, [I have been]” hiking freely and in tune with nature for at least half of those years. When I met Glen Canyon it was love at first sight— a place far from the inbred taboos of our society— closer to a dreamland than to reality. I have never posed as a model and am not doing so here…only doing what I always did in Glen Canyon—climbing, dancing, walking, touching, talking to the stone, swimming in the river, lying in the shallows, sliding down the falls, crawling through ruins, inching up crevasses, hanging from tree limbs, covering myself with mud, playing, singing, living with the canyon. I can always tell when a model is photographed in a place she’s never seen or experienced before; it’s in body language that can’t be hidden.”

The limited edition of black and white portraits of Katie Lee at 37 years old is now available from Hance Editions, http://katie-lee.hanceeditions.com/about-us.

Naked Katie in Glen Canyon

A black and white photo of Katie Lee nude in Glen Canyon hangs in the Patagonia offices. (www.patagonia.com)

Katie Lee: A Rich Legacy Realized in Her Own Lifetime

Happy Birthday Katie. I’m so glad you are able to feel the effects of your eloquent activism in your lifetime. And I’m so happy to be your friend. www.katydoodit.com

Diane Sward Rapaport is the author of Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City

Advertisements

ML Lincoln’s Film Wrenched—The Legacy of Edward Abbey

A hundred people came to Jerome AZ’s “Spook Hall” on Thursday, April 17 to view and celebrate director/producer ML Lincoln’s new film Wrenched. (www.Wrenched-themovie.com).

The film Wrenched is about the community of activists that were inspired by the work of Edward Abbey, who wrote so eloquently about the lonesome and beautiful places of the Southwest.

"Wrenched"-the film

Cover of the DVD of ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched.

Abbey fought with his pen to preserve them against the desecration of industries that care only for the money they produce. Today, profits from pollution are virtually synonymous with big business.

Wrenched is an excellent, well-crafted and gut-wrenching documentary. There’s marvelous archival footage of Ed Abbey; interviews with Doug Peacock, Ken Sleight, John De Puy and Ingrid Eisenstadter—people that were the inspiration for Abbey’s book, The Monkey Wrench Gang—and with many others, such as Robert Redford and authors, Katie Lee, Terry Tempest Williams and Charles Bowden.

There are interviews with many younger activists, such as Tim DeChristopher. What connects all of them is their strong passion and unwavering commitment.

Activism Against the Destruction of Natural Edens

Wrenched shows activists against coal mining on Arizona’s Black Mesa and the rape of the aquifer by transporting coal with large slurry pipelines. Against Glen Canyon reservoir (Loch Latrine, as Jeroman Katie Lee calls it) with archival footage of an Earth First rally that dropped a large black plastic crack down the middle of the concrete to symbolize their protest against the dam.

Peaceful protest by Earth First! at Glen Canyon dam

Earth First! protest rally atGlen Canyon dam dropped a symbolic plastic crack on the face of the concrete dam.

Against oil and gas leases adjacent to national parks and other wilderness areas. Against contaminating the skies and waters. Against the felling of old growth trees.

Earth First! became the rallying cry of the activists and civil disobedience and ‘monkey’ wrenching their tools. Their credo: do no harm to people. As the writer Wallace Stegnar said, “Abbey was a red hot moment in the conscience of this country.”

Many people in Jerome and the Verde Valley can sympathize with many of these causes. The area is a hotbed of activism: citizens may not agree with each other, but they will stand up and fight for the issues they feel strongly about. In these times of grave threats from climate change, we must take whatever stand we can in our communities. Watching a film like Wrenched inspires us to get over our apathy and any feeling of being overwhelmed by current events.

A moving part in the film is the old river runner and wilderness guide Ken Sleight making a plea for people to become active and use whatever creative tools they have: talking, educating, drawing, writing, singing, etc.

Police Action Against Environmental Activism

Part of ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched heralds the souls that braved the cudgels of the police, more and more a reality that faces activists. It sheds light on two disgraceful federal actions to shut the activists down.

One was about the two FBI ‘agent provocateurs’, who were caught on tape being told to persuade four activists in Prescott to ‘do anything’ they could be arrested for. After two years, the activists agreed to cut down the power to some irrigation lines near Aguila, Arizona. The feds supplied the encouragement, the tools and the acetylene torch. Two members of the group were arrested at the site; the others in Prescott. The next day, as though by magic, radio, tv and newspapers headlined that the four were terrorists that were attempting to blow up Palo Verde Nuclear Facility, some eighty miles away.  It was a vry large large fabrication.

Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman was also arrested in the same sting on charges of conspiracy. He gave a copy of this book, Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching, to one of the agent provocateurs signing it ‘happy wrenching’. It was enough for his arrest as a ‘co-conspirator.’

It may sound like something out of science fiction, but it cost tens of thousands of dollars to hire lawyers for the court battle that ensued. The first trial ended in stalemate; those arrested plea-bargained the charges to misdemeanors rather than undergo yet another round and another few years tied up in court. The labels “terrorists” still follow all of them around.What is sad is that the plea bargains clamped down on the activities of Earth First! Dave Foreman’s five-year parole stipulated that he not engage in activist activity for five years.

One of the film’s poignant scenes shows Ilse Asplund, one of the young women arrested, talking about her horror at finding that she trusted Ron Fraizer, one of the agent provocateurs to ‘babysit’ her young children.

The other federal action that grabbed major headlines and was featured in Wrenched was the arrest and two-year incarceration of Tim DeChristopher who bid on some of the 116 parcels on oil and gas leases on public lands tjat were being auctioned. Their sale waw approved by former President Bush at the very end of his term, with insufficient environmental and scientific review.

Tim DeChristopher Arrested for Bidding on Oil and Gas Leases

However, DeChristopher’s actions stalled the sale of all leases until Ken Salazar, the new Secretary of the Interior, took office. He took off the bidding block all the leases that Tim DeChristopher bid on, which were adjacent to National Parks. Nevertheless, his actions led to a conviction of a social justice crime and sentenced to two years in a court action that many deemed a travesty of the system.

Tim De Christopher

Tim DeCristopher at a Peaceful Uprising rally to raise awareness about the effects of .climate change

Another poignant moment of the film shows an almost monk-looking DeChristopher filing books in Ken Sanders Rare Books, a Salt Lake City Utah landmark. After 18 months in prison, DeChristopher was given six months of community service with the proviso that he say nothing abut his views or the circumstances that landed him in prison, nor the organization Peaceful Uprising, that he helped found. www.peacefuluprising.org

A DVD will be available for sale May 4 to people who attend film screenings. A fund-raising campaign to procure the rights for broadcast, video and theatrical showings will be held on Indiegogo. Watch for announcement on the website.