ODY: Week 12. Listen.

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…

(Every one of Garrison Keillor’s stories of a mythical Minnesota begin this way. Prairie Home Companion. Gotta love it.)

It’s also been a quiet week in Old-Dog-With-a-Guitar Land, Gary, but I keep on pluckin’. And I still have a ringing in my ears. It’s “Scuttle Buttin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and that whole Carnegie Hall album. I do love the blues. But I keep thinking back to the rudeness of the crowd as an elderly John Hammond, one of the godfathers of great American music, tried to introduce the band and was almost shouted down. Perhaps even worse was the reaction of much of the crowd to SRV’s solo encore.

He quietly introduced “a song I wrote for my wife” and eased into a slow and introverted instrumental love song called “Lenny”. I have no idea how he made some of those sweetly bent chords come out of a Stratocaster, and I can’t fathom why so many in the audience appeared not to care. “Go, Stevie!” one guy roars, apparently thinking, along with many another buzzed-out moron, that all this delicate stuff was just to whet our appetite for some more headbanging histrionics. I’ve read that Vaughan put his finger to his lips more than once during this extended solo, but the shouting (Hey, listen, I’m a rock show star!) just kept on. That would’ve driven me nuts. It does, even in my living room. Another leather-lung tried to help – I guess – by screaming “Shut the f—k up!!” It didn’t work. I wonder how the performer felt. It’s the context, I suppose, that whole bar blues ethic. I admired Vaughan’s attempt to deliver some quiet and quirky virtuosity, rather than the beer-fuelled, ass-kicking kind. It’s weird when fans take their heroes prisoner. I wonder if it’s just coincidence that the brief, up-tempo closing ditty, a fast and funky answer to the sweetness of “Lenny”, was called “Rude Mood”. (Yeah, folks, I was just teasin’ y’all with that LOVE-stuff.)

There’s so much to The Blues. Feeling. Longing. Suffering. Of course, it arose (at least indirectly) out of the experience of slavery, and it’s still rooted in pain. It can always be dressed up around the edges with sweat, booze and sex, and that’s all some players can find in it. I’ll always go back to Roy Buchanan, though, because he finds all the emotion. (And, bitterly, a most tawdry and depressing end, but that’s another story.) “The Messiah Will Come Again.” “Roy’s Bluz.” Stunning things. I can dig the energy and drive in all kinds of blues players and songs, too, but I lose patience with the corruption. “Howden’s Blues”: I fantasize about a new music — and maybe even playing it a bit — that is tinged with or even driven by the blues, but which can speak of social justice, and not just another dysfunctional shack-up; that can appeal to mind, and not just the groin. Or hey, how about a just slightly raunchy hymn to racial harmony or loyal marital loving? You may say I’m a dreamer…

Well, of course I am. After all, I played my guitar every day again this week. That made for 84 straight, and it ain’t like I’m making a whole lotta music. I’m playing waltzy accompaniment to “On Top of Old Smokey” and a polka-esque pick-strum backing to the melody of “Skip to My Lou”. In four different keys, mind you!! And no matter how tired I am or how drab the prospect, I find that the practising still draws me in. Just gotta put myself in the driver’s seat, and Gordon and I go lurching off on our nearly musical way.

“To Be of Use”: A Good Poem

Yes, a good poem for May Day or any day. It’s by an American poet named Marge Piercy, and it appears in a collection called, get ready for it, Good Poems. It was put together by Garrison Keillor, he of the Lake Wobegon tales and The Prairie Home Companion radio show. (A hint as to my current standing as a Man of the People: I’m more excited by the upcoming movie version of the Companion than by any number of Mission Impossible or Superman sequels. Guess it depends which People we’re talkin’ about…) It’s a hymn to simple honest work, and a testimony to the importance of feeling useful in the world. A poem a day keeps the brain at play.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows 
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. 
They seem to become natives of that element, 
the black sleek heads of seals 
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, 
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge to the task,
who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters 
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud. 
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. 
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. 

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry 
and a person for work that is real.