Matthew L Cohen
Author, essayist, musician living in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his pint-sized rescue dog named Oliver.
The Ballad of Sham Ian
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. This was different from the night before, and the night before, and the night before, and on and on, because Ian Burnside had never seen a candle burning in the window of the abandoned cabin. Ian walked by this cabin every night on his way home from mining coal in one of the last working coal mines in West Virginia. Coal mining was all the Burnsides had ever known how to do. Well, that, and playing the banjo. Ian’s dad, Clyde, was a coal miner and a banjo player, but he was markedly better at the music. Ian, though not a bad banjo player and singer, was no Clyde. Despite that, you can be certain that Ian always had his banjo on his back—he took it every day to the coal mine to play songs during his dinner break. Here comes Ian with his banjo to murder us with music! the other miners would say every night as if they didn’t say it every night. He’s no Clyde Burnside! they’d say. He’s a sham! Sham Ian! Sham Ian is here to murder us with music! And they would laugh and laugh. Ian ignored them. He didn’t know anything but how to mine coal and play the banjo, and one of those things kept him sane.