Monday, June 02, 2008

The Blues: The Basis

The Blues Idiom, As Explained by Albert Murray, Writer
It's idiomatic thinking at its best. It's thinking using the blues idiom as your starting point, your bottom--you know, "Every tub has a bottom," and when you hit bottom is when the blues kick in, though it's more existentially complicated than that; it's as complicated as original African music--it's polyrhythmical writing; it's polytonal writing; it's the beginning of appreciation. Let me let Albert Murray, writer, explain it to you. [As an aside: you know what makes me mad, and I'll tell you right off the bat, I've lived in New York City for 30-some-odd years and so has Albert Murray lived here, too, all that time, and yet I've never met him, sought him out, gone to hear one of his lectures--shit, to be honest, I'd never read any of his fiction, only his essays on jazz--but, hey man, Albert's written poetry, plays, novels, and also a little volume called From the Briarpatch File, On Context, Procedure, and American Identity that is totally dandy as hell--trick-bagily intellectual (elitist) though so simple, like 1 plus 1 is 2, if you don't let it get you down but rather let it raise you up.]

"To me," quoting Albert Murray, "blues music has never been the misery music that the ever so benevolent social-science-survey-oriented do-gooders and uplifters of the downtrodden seem to think it is. To me it has always been good time music, music that inspires you to stomp away low-down blue feelings and stomp in an atmosphere of earthy well-being and affirmation and celebration of the sheer fact of existence."

And, you see now how the blues (the bottom)(the pits)(as bad as it gets) is the starting point?--and as Murray goes on to say, it's the starting point of art, too, of appreciation! Can you dig it?

"Yes, the ever so blue lyrics are indeed about problems, troubles, disappointment, defeat, loss, and unhappiness. But the music, with its locomotive beat and onomatopoeia, not only counterstates and counteracts the complaint that life itself is such a low-down dirty shame, it also goes on to transform the atmosphere (of the juke joint, honky-tonk, or even the rent party) from that of a purification ritual to a fertility ritual! A juke-joint, honky-tonk, or any blues dive is a good-time place, and I've never seen, heard, or heard of a blues musician who was not primarily interested in making the good times roll."

Albert's got my attention. Let the good words roll then! Vision Jack Kerouac sitting in a tight-ass tiny Lower East Side/New York City kitchen (one of those with a bathtub right by the kitchen sink) with a roll of butcher paper in his typewriter and Charlie Parker blowing on his record player, writing to the blues form coming out of Parker's blues horn, blues horn with the be-bop accents, with the be-bop-a-rootie NEW syncopation. Let's see, "I was zooting into a glory-like roll as I looked for beatific symbols in the clouds that I could not see except occasionally, like a summons from a judge from within, 'I do hearby declare you crazy, crazy, man, crazy,' and that drives me crazy, man, crazy, and I go crazy, over Jay-Zee...." And the blues idiom novel starts appreciating, but then I'm jumpin' the blues ahead of Murray's original concept.

Murray's back at bat: "Anyway, to me blues music is an aesthetic device of confrontation and improvisation, an existential device or vehicle for coping with the ever-changing fortunes of human existence, in a word entropy, the tendency of everything to become formless. Which is also to say that such music is a device for confronting and acknowledging the harsh fact that the human situation (the human situation as such) is always awesome and all too often awful. The blues lyric never lets you forget that." Continuing as is continuing in a continuing present, nothing tense now, just loose rollin'--don't lollygag, get on board, Murray's movin' on: "As a frame of acceptance the blues as literary statement also functions in terms of the dynamics of antagonistic cooperation! In a blues composition or anecdote, a key structural device is the break, a cessation of the established rhythm and tempo which jazz musicians regard and respond to not as a detrimental or trauma-inducing disruption not unlike the abrupt intrusion of the villain or some other personification of disaster, but rather as an opportunity to exercise their personal best." What Murray's drivin' at, cookin' toward is to say that the blues idiom is the best place to start from in terms of personal creativity in whatever artistic endeavor--just like he's stating in the title of this small book of essays: From the Briarpatch File, which comes from Murray's growin' up in Mobile, Alabama, with the legend of the mythological Alabama jackrabbit who lived in the mythological Alabama briarpatch. At the end of the first essay in this book, the essay in which he describes himself as a writer coming out of Mobile and the Old South and this that and the other about being black and growing up black in such a white racist Jim Crow world, Murray says the myth of the Alabama jackrabbit gave him the strength to not see himself as a victim of racism but to see himself rather as that Alabama jackrabbit, and he writes these ending lines--and he writes them in itals: "What makes the Alabama jackrabbit so nimble, so resilient, so elegantly resourceful? The briarpatch!"

The world's the briarpatch. Murray ends up saying we of the USA experience (existence) are all Alabama jackrabbits living in a universal briarpatch. The music of the Alabama jackrabbit is the blues, the improvisational music of encouragement and not pity or depression. By using the blues idiom as your creative starting point, then you can create your OWN liberated, elegantly improvised yet FORM-following literature, films, paintings, ceramics, ART, because appreciation of the blues idiom leads to relocation, reappreciation, redesign, renewal, plus from its improvisational aspects, anyone whose got the blues can create a style of life out of it, a style that leads to further appreciation, in music the blues leading to jazz or free-form improvisational music to blendings in with traditional "other" musics or forms--to form an even more modern dance, for instance; or to paint your blues out onto a whole new way of expressing yourself in oils or acrylics or stone or iron. From out of living in the briarpatch comes elegance and aesthetic wonders--why Murray even starts talking about the blues leading to the highest achievement you can make in ART--like as an artist aren't you trying to develop your style to the point that you're the best damn artist in your field ever? Shouldn't that be the goal of all artists?--and I should be saying "creators" rather than artists. I've known some "commercial" artists who hated what they had to draw but who couldn't achieve their own style thus their own art--and they were stuck in that briarpatch world where that was the best they could do, like musicians who can only read scores and have no improvisational skills, like playing by ear occasionally or playing with your own FEELING. Murray's blues-based art raises you to an elitism--Murray admits he is an elitist when it comes to creativity--if you are the best artist you can be then you are among the best and you are an elitist in the field of art.

You can kind'a see it better when Murray brings old Brer Rabbit into this blues idiom picture. I like this: "The one thing that faked Brer Rabbit out was a phony image of his people! What I see when I look at social science surveys and profiles of 'my people' (which is to say, my idiomatic American relatives) is a bunch of social science fiction tar babies!

"Down-home boy that I am, I have never been so unhip, so unbelievably square, as to mistake a tar baby for the me I think I should be, certainly not because some social science head-counting racial one-upman decides that a tar baby stands for all rabbits.

"My rabbit, it turns out, is not literally the same as the one that old Uncle Remus used to tell the little bright-eyed boy over in Georgia about. My rabbit is the Alabama jackrabbit version of the one that Duke Ellington had in mind when he orchestrated the concerto for tenor saxophone entitled Cotton Tail."

OK. I can relate to all that Murray's briarpatchin' about above there--yes, he's dealing with his blackness, his Southern blackness, his Alabama blackness, but hey, my ancestors were from Alabama, too, OK, they were white, they believed Uncle Remus's version of the Brer Rabbit blues where the tar baby tricked the rabbit--but that was the White Rabbit there, don't you see? The White Rabbit (like a minstrelsy white in blackface--the tar baby impersonation of what the white rabbit thinks is the truth about tar baby--and the White Rabbit lived in the opposite briarpatch, a civil-looking one, but a jungly one just the same, an entanglement of legendary briars just as thorny--I mean keeping up white racist attitudes is the tar baby white folks are stuck to. What I'm babblingly trying to spout out is that hey, the blues is the pathway for even a white artist to follow in becoming nimble and quick and wily and improvisationally liberated. I remember to this day the first blues I ever heard. I associated with it from the get-go. I recognized the blues as a music I understood and felt, not just as black music or devil music, no, but as MY music, the music from my past, too, since after all I believe in the African Genesis so therefore somewhere back in my genes there's an African ancestor--an ancestor who may have been a master drummer--who may have been a member of the chanters or just a solo dancer--and that's why I recognized the blues as an idiom I understood from an ancient sense I had of what was me--stylizing myself out of my tar baby-stuck white rabbit going-nowhere existence (except maybe going into a rabbit stew) and more like that Alabama jackrabbit--and we have jackrabbits and briarpatches in Texas, too--and I can see myself as a brother jackrabbit in the universal sense--racing along with Albert Murray trying for the same goals, that elegant rise into escape through creative improvisation--justifying the cool that will prevail after the blues takes over your lifestyle--not the depressing blues but the liberating blues--the blues that tells you the sun will shine in your backdoor again someday--and that don't worry, though it's floodin' right now, the waters will soon recede and you'll be on high ground again--or there's a seat, a first class seat on that train that's going on down the line out to that Golden State of California or Sweet Home Chicago--and as any kind of jackrabbit, you gotta keep movin', "'Cause if I stay another day you're gonna drive me out'a my mind." And that's what the briarpatch tries to do to you, drive you outta your mind so that soon you're skinned and dressed out and in Old Massuh's corporate pot being stewed to perfection for Miss Anne's dinner tonight.

All of the above Albert Murray quotes are from From the Briarpatch File, Albert Murray, Pantheon Books, 2001.

Speaking of Obama
I was doing some thinking/wandering the other day doing a little improvised wondering about something given Obama's seemingly very successful campaign to be the Dumbocratic candidate for president in November (though I still see Hillbilly Hill and Uncle Billy Jeff not satisfied till they've caused a convention floor fight--like Hillary's babbling about how she got more votes than Obama--knowing full well it's delegates that count in primaries and not votes), What I was wondering about is, Obama has no American slavery in his African side--oh, sure, he may have African relations who were enslaved but not his immediate family and certainly not through his mother's side--who Obama doesn't seem to talk about much at all.

Will Obama be a great president! He could be, but then all of them could be, but most probably he won't make the grade. Maybe he's not that acquainted with the blues! Puerto Ricans don't like Obama--they overwhelmingly chose Hillary over Obama--one pundit said it was because Bill and Hill campaigned all over Puerto Rico but Obama only went there for one day and that was not a public appearance--his thinking is, of course, Puerto Ricans can't vote in the presidential election, forgetting, of course, that there are millions of Puerto Ricans in this country who do vote--why there are even tons of Puerto Ricans in Chicago! In Hawaii even--yep, there's an old Puerto Rican colony still in Hawaii from back during the time Hawaii had a Royal Family and were in control of Hawaii's commonwealth before it was stolen by the Dole Family and We the People (the US government) back before WWI. Obama lived in Hawaii.

Was Jimmy Carter a great president? NO. Was Slick Willie? NO. Will Obama be? Probably NO.

The Down Hill Pull, a blues by Victoria Spivey
Hmmmmm.... Aah, got a down hill pull and I ain't gettin' you no more

There's an undercurrent somewhere, and I can't put my foot on land
Undercurrent somewhere, can't put my foot on land
I don't seem to nowhere no matter how hard I plan

There's a change in the ocean, baby there's a change in me
There's a change in the ocean, baby there's a change in me
I'm gonna find solid ground, you'll travel on to the deep blue sea

Oooh... done laid my love down for you
Mmm... laid my love down for you
The middle o' the time I do anything you told me to do

Got a down hill pull, and I ain't gettin' you no more
Got a down hill pull, and I ain't gettin' you no more
Can find a man to give my money most anyplace I go

Oooh... done dropped my love for you
Mmm... dropped my love for you
Ain't got you on my mind, any man I find will do.
for The Daily Growler

Keeping Up With the NEW Yankees
This bum Farnsworth blew a save last night as the Yanks dropped 7 games out of first, losing their second in a row. Yankee fans are beginning to get restless. They're bitchin' a bit. "Why the hell is Farnsworth still on this team?" Then a bit of assuage, "Don't worry, they're down every year like this, everybody starts getting down on them, but they always come back...." At least they did under Joe Torre. And, you can't blame Joe Girardi. Who wouldn't want to be offered the Yankee manager's job? And who wouldn't brag about being able to guarantee you're gonna take them to the World Series? Girardi succeeds or, like we've said, he's sellin' beer in Northern New Jersey or he's managing the Staten Island Yankees if he's lucky.

Joe Torre in the meantime is under .500 but he's holding at 3 1/2 behind the Diamondbacks--the rest of this division is a bunch of bums, all except Arizona under .500.

The Mets. They're still 3 1/2 out, but not to worry--Willie's got 'em pumped up at least--and we'll see if Pedro can make a comeback--we doubt it, but we wish him well.
American League East
Tampa Bay3522.614-24-1011-1221-125-48-48-2W 3
Boston3525.58321-514-2011-1212-59-84-6L 1
Toronto3128.525515-1116-177-1015-77-107-3L 2
N.Y. Yankees2829.491714-1214-1713-149-136-06-4L 2


Language said...

Great stuff. "The world's the briarpatch" -- I'll have to cogitate on that.

Marybeth said...

Here's 30 seconds of Jack-be-nimble silliness from Dee Dee Ramone's appearance on the Uncle Floyd show. The band is ugly and the music is hideous but the poet puppet that introduces them is hilarious. A cute spoof on hipness with great balls of pasta fazoul.