Check In w/ the Blue Mirror


A Whole Nother Devil

It's a thesis song and it speaks for itself.  "The whole concept of this video is to basically show how the two worlds collide.  I have a street background coming from The Clipse, the Re-Up Gang.  Tyler comes from this independent subculture. I think people would not expect for us to be able to make a record that's so fundamentally hiphop sounding."  Got it.

We have no need to write on the self evident and we don't work on our fresh in these pages, but there's so much blue devilin' in the track, we thought we'd drop a couple of footnotes on you.

We begin 97 years ago, w/ Richard M. Jones, the ancestor who conjured one of the dominators of the 20th c., "Trouble in Mind," in 1924.  It's a song so familiar that it's gruesome ending, when the narrator commits suicide by letting a train crush his head, has become inaudible.  Did I hear someone holla "Yonkers" nearly a century later?  We thought we heard something from the back of the club.  Satisfy my mind, ya dig?

It's easy to take Jones's tune one way, as a variation on the worried blues theme.  As many covers as there are to the song there are very few real versions on it; the take is pretty standard.

Then we got worry's opposite: "So much trouble on my mind.  I refuse to lose."  

This back and forth puts Ralph Ellison's first rule of the blues into of our mind.  The blues don't stay where you thought you put them.  The blues swings front, back and side to side.  Ellison tells us that the blues is "an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger the jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism."  This is the rule we'a play by when we spin Pusha T and Tyler through the night, when we spin all of the trouble songs that come before and will come after, 'til the breakadawn.

So we got the worries, but then we got the menace, the lyrical otherside of worry, knowhatimsaying?  And you got the tragedy and the comedy all mixed up, too.  They're ibeji, y'all.  Just like in the video.  But now we're writing about the self evident, so we should step out.

Here's a clip of troubles.  Load your Mac w/ 'em and play on, kingz and queenz.

    Thesis:  The Worried Mind
    • "Trouble in Mind Blues," Thelma La Vizzo, featuring Richard M. Jones, piano (1924).
    • "Trouble in Mind," Chippie Hill, featuring Richard M. Jones, piano, and Louis Armstrong, cornet (1926).  Reference version.  Surprising how close the covers stay to the spirit of this one.
    • "Trouble in Mind," Dinah Washington (1952).  There is no better blues singer.  Female Muddy Waters.
    • "Trouble in Mind," Lightnin' Hopkins (1977).
    • "Trouble in Mind," James Blood Ulmer (2003).
    • "(I've Got) So Much Trouble on My Mind,"Sir Joe and Free Soul (1972).  Funky retake of the old worried blues.  "Give me the strength, 'cause everything I've got is gone."
    • "Trouble," Shinehead (1992).
    Antithesis: I Refuse to Lose
    • "I Refuse to Lose," James Brown (1976).  Ellpee version.
    • "Wanna Rock," UTFO (1989). Flips Sir Joe into a boast.  
    • "Welcome to the Terrordome," Public Enemy. Huge, wild insertion into the tradition.  Runs loose over the whole business.  
    • "Trouble in Mind," Natalie Gardiner (2003).  Wild and sexy retake, adding both menace and confidence to the bluesy mix.

    Synthesis:  Whole Nother Devil, Dig?


    Softly Asking Over and Over Its Old Question

    ::  pours the rum in a circle  ::
    ::  scatters red beans  ::
    ::  lights cigar  ::
    ::  reads the tracings  ::

    "Again the old 'Hesitation Blues' against the trills of birds..."

    We approach ASK YOUR MAMA: 12 MOODS FOR JAZZ slowly. Because the poem breathes so deep, conjures so much, we take care w/ each step, like a woman walking on softboiled eggs.

    Before we begin, let us remark, tho,' about how much AYM means to professional readers of Langston Hughes.  Those professors label the poem w/ heavy terms -- classic, epic, masterpiece.  They use it as a basis to compare Hughes to T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Hart Crane.  We have big love for those brothers, but we think the Book of Langston is (obviously) composed on its own terms, a vocabulary distinctive because the author's interesting approach to both audience and multiple media.  We note this now, even as we have made this point before, because we believe this is one of the big points in the Book of Langston, and that many readers just plain miss it because they are reading for the wrong thing.  The poet laureate of Harlem, just like the King of the Zulus, just means more than most of us currently realize.  

    And so we start our what we have to say about AYM by remarking that it is conceived as a language experienced both visually (on colorful, carefully crafted pages -- not the first time Langston played for book as object) and as a musical performance* (and as we have been noting, this is an effort in his career that he returns to from beginning to end).  In fact, if we think AYM as an LP (thought for a later post), complete w/ tracklist and liner notes, we have a third and highly timebound and mediated take on both of the first two approaches -- Langston knew how to play w/ the dialectic, dig? We always take AYM as all of these experiences and make the most of them to understand it.

    Like that great ancestor, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston's has made the visual rendition of music one of the first things the reader sees.†  The score stands at the beginning of the book like a veve, conjuring the drinking gourd to guide the book forward.

    Like Vachel Lindsay, an ancestor who has fallen to disrepute even tho' he got the jazzy groove and played with the materials of the age as well as any more acclaimed modernist, Langston gives stage directions to guide future performances.  The dancers got to know what they're doing when they improvise.  There's a limit to everything.  Dig?

    So will all deliberate speed (ask your Mama about this), we take up Hughes's first direction:

    The traditional folk melody of "The Hesitation Blues"
    is the leitmotif for this poem.  In it and around it,
    along with other recognizable melodies employed,
    there is room for spontaneous jazz improvisation... 

    We've been unable to establish a reference version of this tune.  In fact the opposite, it's one of those jes' grew tunes that the tin pan alley gangstas (people like Smythe, Middleton and Gillham or Handy who made it, or not, stackin' bundles in the early 20th c. song dealing game) tried to line up property rights to their bankaccounts.  From the beginning of rekkids, there's "Hesitation" and "Hesitating."  The versions were kicking around dancehalls, vaudeville, the fields and anywhere else cratediggers went looking for their fresh back in the day.  The different versions develop different takes on the impatience, but both come around to the question, "Can I get you now, or must I hesitate?" We think this undetermined origin is part of what Hughes wants us to think on, and that the tug of war between different authors for ownership creates a legacy of consequences he wants us to think on, too.  

    As Handy remembers it in his indispensable Blues Anthology, the early versions of the song are salacious.  "Le me be yo' rag doll till yo' tidy come,/If he can hear me raggin,' he got to rag it some, ma honey,/How long has I got to wait?/Oh, can I git you now, or must I hesitate?" Ask your Mama whether the blues starts w/ something sexy.  Can we say it again?  Good God, y'all.  It goes on and on and on and on.  

    Desire is desire.  Delay is delay, the thief of time.  So all the wise owls say.  It's high time to stop putting off. Tomorrow isn't today.  And it is easy for us to go from here to the dream deferred because it is where the poem takes us, and because the deferred dream takes such powerful place throughout the Book of Langston.  The song reminds us that we're tired tired of the procrastination.  Obviously, bro,' obviously, then as now, we want our freedom and we want it sooner, not later.  Ask Max Roach.  So we mark this.  

    Then we mark that there's more.  The same book teaches us much about taking and remaking, taking and crossing over, taking and getting a piece of the pie, just as the blues song does, even from the beginning.  In this slang rap democracy, however, we're always making new out of old, and we're always moving forward by taking things from the past and fashioning them to new purposes.  Paradox?  Ask your Mama.  We can see from here to freedom in this movement -- stealing from that sexy bandit Jes Grew so you can BMF on copyrighted material, and then bootlegging from the copyrighted material to make collages of future freedom.  Like a bird in orbit, mayn.  

    Here's the formula the poem proposes against the constant delay:  Put the tradition to work.  Make it out of the things from the past that help reframe the present, so you can see more clearly what is right going forward.  Make it out of what what you find.  When we take something from the past, even when it is not ours for the taking, and make it into something of our own, we propose our freedom, even when we are not fully free.  And because we can propose our freedom, we make visible the limits on it.  That's what Handy did, and he was more free for doing so.  And even though Smythe, Middleton and Gillham (unbound by the just plain old evil of Jim Crow) were more free than Handy to do so, they made 'Merica more free for freely indulging in one of the true sources of 'Merican originality and putting the people to work on the dancefloor with it.  

    So it is.  With every new take on the song, we get another little piece of what's ours back, and make a little piece of what is ours to be in the future.  Let's begin reading from AYM w/ these notes in mind. 

    Here's a clip w/ hesitatings, hesitations, a procrastination and how longs, each one a give and take in the dialogue that begins with the same question:

    I. Early Big Band -- maybe our favorite renditions because they show what was at stake in the early slangrapdemocracy days of the 20th century.  Sh*t is on the run.
    • "Hesitating Blues," Prince's Band and Orchestra (ca. 1915).
    • "Hesitation Blues," The Victor Military Orchestra (1916).
    • "Hesitating Blues," James Reese Europe's 369th U.S. Infantry "Hell Fighters" Band (1919).  We have big love for this version. Dr. Europe's arkestra rules the old school.
    II. Hestitatings.  We put these down closer to versions closer to W.C. Handy's: a slightly more organized song w/ some drama: Phone line's down & can't reach my baby.  My baby's left on the evening train.  Shouldna hesitated. Shoulda said yes yes.

    "Hello, Central! What's the matter with this Line?"
    • "Hesitating Blues," Esther Bigeou (1923).  A nominee for the reference version, for sure. It has all of the W.C. Handy song in one place and Esther is a wonderful singer.
    • "Hesitating Blues," Lena Horne (1962?).  Earns a namecheck in the AYM.
    • "Hesitating Blues," Eartha Kitt (1959).  "DELIGHTED!  INTRODUCE ME TO EARTHA."
    • "Hesitating Blues," Louis Armstrong and his All Stars.  In his way, Pops flips the tune and flips it again.  It's a duet.  He's trynta get in touch w/ his girl.  She's regretful that she's lost her beau.  He's willing to take his place.  You see Pops, like Langston, was really never gonna wait.  This is the masterpiece of mid20th c. attitude that they both conjured.  Each in their own way called on Ogoun, the ironman politician, and made impatience out of patience.  
    III. Hesitations:  These are more like the Smythe, Middleton and Gillham versions, but they remind us that the song cleaves to the principle of "incremental repetition" we hear Zora talk about elsewhere: "It's one of these things that's grown by incremental repetition until it's one of the longest songs in America." There is a press shuffle logic in the versing and chorusing.

    • "Hesitation Blues," Jelly Roll Morton (1938).  "I kept the sheet music where nobody could see it."  We are more than a little fond Jelly to the Roll's patter about staying one step ahead of the copywriters @ the beginning of this joint.  and then he leans into the song all gentle and singsongy: "If I was whiskey, and you was a cup, I'd dive the to bottom and never get up." 
    • "Hesitation Blues," Leadbelly (tracking down the date, but from the Rounder version of the LoC recordings).  
    • "Hesitation Blues," Sam Collins (1927).  We love every track lined and laid down by Sam Collins, but this one, w/ its haunting, sassy vocals has a special place in our hearts: "My gal grinds her meal at home."
    • "Hesitation Blues," Taj Mahal.  Strangely, we have no date on this.  Nevertheless, the song introduces a thought we cannot quite find in others -- that the hesitation was a dance step.  
    IV. "Procrastination is the thief of time..."
    • "Hesitating Blues," Big Maybelle (?).  She takes the tune to the bridge and stays there, making it something else.   She gets a namecheck in AYM, too. 
    V.  "How long, babe, how long has that eveining train been gone?"  Here's where we go from incremental repetition to speculation, but, as Eric Lott is quick to remind us, this is a world of love and theft, and Leroy Carr's been known to take a little bit of what he loves and flip it into a moneymaker of his own.  Each of these tunes, which takes another step into the distance from Handy and Smythe, Middleton and Gillham, come back to the same deferred desire.  No longer the subject of Langston's namechecks and stage directions, though, they prove the point that incremental repetition is a step in the direction of freedom, the dialectic that Langston plays over and over, on and on.
    • "How Long -- How Long Blues," Leroy Carr (1928).  We have no reason to dispute the speculation that Leroy Carr, always the opportunist in an opportunistic mode of production, took both the evening train and the lonely chorus of this song from one or another version of "The Hesitating/ion Blues."  No big, tho,' because as we already noted, he was stealing from jes' grew, which isn't like stealing chickens from a rich man.  Carr's his own versionologist and he incrementally repeated (took from and made new) "How Long -- How Long Blues" five more times before he died.  As the years pass, his versions begin to address the hard times -- greenbacks hard to see in the depression.  (We must recognize: Elijah Wald is the teacher, blues is the preacher in this case.  We benefit from much science about Leroy Carr and the pre-war blues business from Escaping the Delta.)
    • "How Long," Frank Stokes (1928).  No evening train, but no loving since his baby's been gone, too.
    • "My Road is Rough and Rocky (How Long, How Long)," Sam Collins (Before 1932). Now a straight, no chaser blues song, 'cept three's someone chasing.  "Chickens on my back and hounds on my track."
    • "How Long How Long," Kokomo Arnold (1935).  The looming future regret caused by deferring the dream.  "Some day you're going to be sorry you done me wrong."
    • "How Long," Sister Ola Mae Terrell (1948).  Desire for love now flipped into desire for salvation. "How long, you gonna live in your sin, great God, how long?"
    • "How Long (Betcha Got a Chick on the Side)," The Pointer Sisters (1975).  Flipped again. Desire deferred is a woman's right for suspicion.  "It might hurt me for a while, but of one thing I am sure.  I'll get over you."
    • "How Long Jah (Extended)," Trinity (1976-78).  The chorus is still really the same thing we've been working on the whole time.  But the song is now full of the ironman's fire: redemption and salvation are part of the same political/spiritual passage.  AND THE TOLLBRIDGE FROM WESTCHESTER/IS A GANGPLANK ROCKING RISKY.
    • "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?" Sharon Dap and the Daptones (2005).  Flipped more gently than the Pointers, and very much reprising a version of the old hesitating blues.
    • "How Long Can U Front," Kool Keith & 54-71 (2009).  Flipped out.  Because it takes on the recession, signifying on the hardtimes blues of Leroy Carr, we could not help but keep it in the clip.
    * See The Langston Hughes Project, whose effort to perform AYM should be brought to disc.



    Out of Yesterday's Night

    ::  lights cigar  ::
    ::  offers smoke  ::
    ::  scatters five plus five iron nails  ::
    :: reads  ::

    It is commonplace in the book of Langston to find him conjuring the light of hope from the fire of politics: Ogoun's way of peace, dig?

    It is from this same hot iron that he worked w/ Randy Weston, Melba Liston  and an all star band* to record Weston's act of orchestral syncretism, Uhuru Afrika.  The opportunity came to Weston after he made a deal worthy of Robert Johnson:  he agreed to record showtunes from Destry Rides Again, a slab his record company thought would sell more, for approval of the nationalist suite.  We got the crossover move working in all directions here.

    Weston was, if not a a kind of muse to Langston, than at least a frequently chosen accompanist.  Langston almost dedicated Ask Your Mama to him, before he realized that it would be better to dedicate it to someone born July 1, 1900.  Later he invited Weston to arrange and perform the music for his funeral service, so he could sound good when he went back across to glory and joined the ancestors.

    R& throws Uhuru Afrika into the crate of projects celebrating African/Afro-American liberation that includes Max Roach's Freedom, Now!, and Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite.  Willard Jenkins tosses in another four "albums addressing the African-American social landscape included Art Blakey’s Africaine, John Coltrane’s Africa Brass, Oliver Nelson’s Afro-American Sketches, Dizzy Gillespie’s Africana."  We must begin by recognizing that these records are no "small memory."†  They are part of a powerful aesthetic political action that deserves it's own entry here @ the blue light.

    But when we think of Uhuru Afrika as a page in the book of Langston, rather than an album by Randy Weston that paid a few of Langtson's bills, we draw three more conclusions:

    The first, one we've been drawing now for several entries here @ the blue light and over @ the red light, is simple.  Langston is a multimedia artist and his musical legacy needs to be reckoned with as a musical legacy, not the musical dabblings of a writer.  I am sure there is fine secondary work on Langston's musical efforts.  But we do not find his discography in the back pages of R&'s fine bio lined up as column of work next to his bibliography.  His credits over @ discogs, another fine resource offered through the collective wisdom of the internets, are also way underdeveloped.  (We must add, too, that we yearn for his videography, too.  There's not a single frame of primary material boasted visibly to the internets in any of the archives, and YouTube offers only sad tertiary sources for the most part.)

    The second, is that Uhuru Afrika is a project that takes its place in the book of Langston alongside of his late 50s and early 60s political poetry.  This body of work is caught up in a utopian exchange that goes back and forth freely (can we say that enough) across the Atlantic (& we're coming back to this in a ¶).

    The lyrics Langston composed for the introduction is a simple invocation.  The invocation is then doubled in a second language that wishes for a single, unifying language:

    Africa, where the great Congo flows!
    Africa, where the whole jungle knows
    A new dawning breaks. Africa!
    A young nation awakes! Africa!
    In his own tongue, Kiswahili, Sanga salutes the new Africa, Uhuru!
    The freedom wind blows!
    Out of yesterday's night Uhuru –
    Freedom! Uhuru! Freedom

    The lyrics he composed for the suite's second movement is a sequence of two statements, both address the "African lady," who is part muse, part metonymic vessel for holding as many wishes as the two speakers can place within it.

    African Lady

    female voice
    Sunrise at dawn,
    Night is gone –
    I hear your song.
    African lady.
    The dark fades away,
    Now its day,
    A new morning breaks.
    The birds in the sky all sing
    For Africa awakes.
    Bright light floods the land
    And tomorrow's in your hand,
    African lady.

    male voice
    Goddess of sun
    And of sea,
    My lovely one,
    African lady,
    Your eyes softly bright
    Like the light
    Of stars above.
    Smile and the whole world sings
    A happy song of love.
    Dark Queen! In my dreams
    You're my Queen!
    My Queen of Dreams,
    African lady!

    Both poems speak with a bright optimism of the era's liberating moment.  For the bookbound who are looking for the similar, we urge you to put this work alongside "Africa," "Envoy to Africa," "Dixie South Africa," "Angola Question Mark," "Lumumba's Grave," "We, Too" "Drums," "Emporer Haile Selassie," &c.  Moreover, we imagine we're missing much from his prose from the same years.  This is a coherent body, whose purpose it is to conjure one out of many, to make a unity.

    The third conclusion is drawn from the powerful trope of crossing over.  It is a bright thread in the musical and poetic fabric of Uhuru Afrika.  It is also a magic thread that all but possesses the soul in the book of Langston.   In the eyes of the small-minded, crossing over is divisive, selling out, leaving behind.  And that nearly goes without saying, whether we're talking about the rap game or the more horrible passage that followed the sun west across the Atlantic.  But the crossing over is never in just one direction, no matter how hard the small-minded would have it so.

    Crossing over makes a bigger world, a "we too" to "rise with you."  The ancestral genius that inhabits the book of Langston knows this.  That spirit inhabits Langston and becomes his genius, too.  It is and always will be a cosmopolitan genius, one that declares affirmation in negation and fashions self out of everyone else.  That's how it did.

    Read this, now, and ponder all of what Langston means when he crosses over:

    "Old Walt"

    Old Walt Whitman
    Went finding and seeking,
    Finding less than sought
    Seeking more than found,
    Every detail minding
    Of the seeking or the finding.

    Pleasured equally
    In seeking as in finding,
    Each detail minding,
    Old Walt went seeking
    And finding.

    The is the back, forth and side to side, and not just moving in one way.  It's the what Ogoun calls for when we try to start a movement. Dig?

    Here's a clip of bullets documenting the primary source.  Play on, Player.

    We've got so much more to say.  Look forward to posts on Langston's Simple musical, his gospel plays, his recorded children's books and his operas, especially his operas w /Kurt Weill.


    *  Randy Weston Orchestra 
    Randy Weston piano
    Clark Terry trumpet, flugelhorn
    Benny Bailey trumpet
    Richard Williams trumpet
    Freddie Hubbard trumpet
    Slide Hampton trombone
    Jimmy Cleveland trombone
    Quentin Jackson trombone
    Julius Watkins french-horn
    Gigi Gryce alt sax, flute
    Yusef Lateef tenor sax, flute, oboe
    Sahib Shihab alt sax, baritone sax
    Budd Johnson tenor sax, clarinet
    Jerome Richardson baritone sax, piccolo
    Cecil Payne baritone sax
    Les Spann guitar, flute
    Kenny Burrell guitar
    George Duvivier bass
    Ron Carter bass
    Max Roach drums, percussion
    Charlie Persip drums, percussion
    Wilbert G. T. Hoggan drums
    Candido congas
    Michael Babatunde Olatunji percussion
    Armando Peraza bongos
    Martha Flowers vocal
    Brock Peters vocal
    Tuntemeke Sanga narrator

    Melba Liston  arrangements
    Langston Hughes  liner notes
    Teddy Reig  producer

    †  I have this
    Strange small memory
    Of death
    And seven trees


    Did You Hear That? An Ensemble Riff: Langston's Long Page

    The more we read from the book of Langston, the more we are compelled to add to the public record.

    First, like Pops, he exceeds critical efforts to describe him in terms of genre or media.  Langston Hughes worked opportunity, not "the novel," or "poetry," or "autobiography."  It is in this light that we should make a conscious effort to explore all of the objects in the archive.  You can see this, as we have noted before, in R&'s most excellent record of the poet's life, where apparently trivial tasks, like making the musical Simply Heavenly, spill way more ink on his pages than making the book Montage of a Dream Deferred."  We are averse to aesthetics (much room for misjudgment), and therefore leave it to others to determine which project deserves more attention and love."  But we care deeply about the ways we remember our ancestors, and therefore will make every effort we can to document these projects as thoroughly as possible.

    Second, we take note of the fact that Langston left behind so many efforts at an historian.  "History's long page/Records the whole vast/Prelude to our age." We should assume someone as practiced as he his has a working historigraphy, and that it is worth our attention.

    Thus, third, we take up with interest this project he whipped up for Moses Asch.  Under no circumstances should work that contains the line "with them came their rhythms" be passed over as a trifle.  Although much of his version of the jazz story bends under facts we have had the privilege to learn since the record was made, we are convinced by nothing more than the power of his voice when he creates the story of "the Mississippi, mighty river, bearing cotton, and music and dreams."  He establishes jazz as ultimately but not originally 'Merican, and blends it with more than just the drums of west African and the blood of slaves, but also with the French, Spanish and West Indian roots it owns, too.

    Langston rewrote the word 'Merican from an identity into multiple identities throughout his career, and this is one more time he makes that rewrite sound like child's play, an understatement that intentionally belies how profoundly true the statement is.  Langston's gift for understatement needs to be more fully explored.  When he says "The people of New Orleans heard all of this music," he is not reciting a fact, or an assumption that passed from one mouth to another, from one page to another in jazz historiography.  He is reciting a cosmopolitan creed.  "They began to put it together into a music of their own, always syncopating the rhythms a little bit more, always a little bit more, influenced no doubt by the congo drums."

    He acted on his cosmopolitan beliefs and asked others to do the same throughout his career.  It is the source of his impulse to put into writing the words of the blues again and again.  And it is the source of his advice to Nicolás Guillén and Jacques Roumain to write down what they heard.  It is an impulse he knows that he is not making up, but passing on from one person to another in the same way that Louis Armstrong takes the blues from "traces of the work songs, field hollers and plantation cries of the deep south."

    It is not a simple childish act to imagine that "Maybe one hot day a man was working in a rice field, and a song came to his head, then out of his mouth."  Nor is it a simple declaration of origins.  Remember, on this record, Langston makes up one origin after another.  It's Langston's own artistic ontology, packaged up into a little project by Moses Asch.  It's also an historiography of compound re-origination.  Later in the rekkid he tosses off another sentence, one about how white players taught themselves to play like the New Orleans players who followed the money and the soul north, "They tried to learn to play as they played."  Ripped out of context, this sentence gives us so much more.  It's almost as if Langston imagines the economy of influence, but without Bloom's anxiety.  "People listen to jazz for fun, dance to jazz for fun and play jazz for fun."  In the end, its "Boys making up their own music, just like the old timers did.  Improvising, just for fun."

    Here's the rekkid. Make more of it than you are at first tempted to.  There's much more there.


    But This Will Bring You Back

    We make no claim to have opened the book of Zora in a serious way.  All we have is the necessary reverence for Their Eyes Were Watching God.  We promise that we'll take up the the book, but we fear that when we look Zora's work full in the face, it will take full possession of our soul.  

    How do we know of this power? We were strumming through the Library of Congress's dusty files looking for artifacts of Langston Hughes. Instead we found ourselves in a file folder of depression era field recordings from Florida (and we commend the whole folder to you).  Tucked inside, like someone meant to lose them, was a small treasure of Zora Neale Hurston recordings.  For the last two days we have found ourselves dazzled outta listening to Langston's big crossover project Street Scene by this string os shiny objects.   

    What we're hearing:  Zora's doubled up, on the one hand herself is digging the crates of her own memory and the street for material and on the other she's been a hand working in the field for the documentating anthropologist.  She's both subject and object on both ends of the verb "to record."  And then, to redouble, she makes a record of her voice.  Now keep this trouble in mind.  She does this long before some idle listener conjuring the past from the internets can anticipate that her voice will be one we want to carry the aura of the original. Of course we can chalk this up as the drudgery of the anthropologist who cannot anticipate the magic of the fieldworker.  All they were doing was filling the ledger w/ obsessively kept records of the soon to be lost past work songs.  

    In keeping, this pocketful of songs carries all of the dutiful anthropologist detailing, including snipe hunting patterns and more true sources.   There's card playing songs and track lining songs, references to the sawmills and geechees and the jukejoints, all of the places the unnaground places that A&R men go hunting for the next act to appear @ SXSW and coachella, right?  

    In "Mule on the Mount," you can listen to Zora in dialogue w/ the anthropologist riff up the whole theory of the tradition out of partial answers.  This is how it really happened.  How it came back and became the biggest song in America.  In response to the sourceseeking questions she patiently develops a reply that tells much more of a story than the questions imagine they are asking for.  "[The song] has enumerable verses and whatnot about everything under the sun....  There's nowhere you can't find parts of this song....  The tune is consistent.  But the verses you know, in every locality you find new verses....  I'm gonna sing verse from whole lotsa places....  Yes, sometimes they sings thirty and forty verses....   It's one of these things that's grown by incremental repetition until it's one of the longest songs in America."

    Zora, tho,' can take this quest for cool and turn it back on itself.  As you work through the material and get to songs like "Uncle Bud," and "Mule on the Mount" and "Po' Gal" there is no helping yourself.  The spell has been fully cast. These are beautiful songs because Zora knows them the way she knows them and sings them as beautiful as she can.  And we are hypnotized by the beauty.  But there's more.  We are also hypnotized because now her historical grandeur outsizes the sum of the recordkepping and the beauty of the source and her beautiful take on it.  The conjure power is as much because it is Zora's voice, carried back from the past, even as it carries back these tunes from a further past.  This is the twice Lazarussian true record of the unnaground coming back, Orpheus coming back from the Orpheus story w/ the true music back from the dead. 

    We lined these records up into smaller clips.  Take 'em to church.  Shout 'em to the congregation.  Call for the resurrection.

    • "Uncle Bud," Zora Neale Hurston (1937).  It's one of those juke songs.
    • "Mule on the Mount," Zora Neale Hurston (1937).  There's nowhere you can't find parts of this song.
    • "Po' Gal," Zora Neale Hurston (1937).  

    We'll see you when your troubles get like our'n.


    The Darkness, the Song and Me

    We've been working our way through the book of Langston for about 3 months, now.  And as always, there's so much things to say that for now we'll only one or two:  Like Pops, Langston runs past our expectations, no matter how high they are, no matter how low they are.  He doesn't get penned up neatly in a book.  As he moved from from one project to another (like the troubador), he defied those who's expectations would have him a poet, or a novelist, or a communist, or a gospel songwriter.  We are compelled to say that he is none of these jobs -- lines of work -- because he is all of them.  So high you can't see over it; so low you can't get under it.

    W/ this job defying tendency in mind, we have been looking up the word music in the book of Langston.  Yes, yes.  We find Langston, blues poet, Langston, poet of song, Langston, poet teacher encouraging his spanish language colleagues to do the same; Langston, pop songwriter, Langston, maker of musical theatre, Langston, maker of historical operas, Langston, jazz performer, Langston,  jazz historian, Langston, groove theorist.  His trick is to be all of this.

    How does Langston play this trick?  We don't know.  That's why it's a trick, we figure.  The devils are in the details.  Not a little bit here and a little bit there, but in the details everywhere.  This morning we're'a call up a spell to Papa Guéudé and ask him to help straighten out what we know about Langston, 'cause he's the one we ask about the ancestors when we need to keep them straightened out.  We want his guidance when we're trynta leave true memories behind.

    R& gives us the prompt.  He tells us that Langston worked the Village Vanguard w/ Charles Mingus/Phineas Newborn, and later Ben Webster, and later w/ Randy Weston @ the Village Gate.  He catches the ups and downs of Langston's views from an interview w/ the Toronto Star.  "Jazz gives poetry a much wider following and poetry brings to jazz that greater respectability people seem to think it needs.  I don't think jazz needs it, but most people seem to."  We want a piece of this action.  There's ideas running in every direction, and we need help so we don't overstand this.

    So this morning, we offer up The Weary Blues and Other Poems Read by Langston Hughes.  Really, it's two sets in one, both produced by Leonard Feather.  The first is w/ dixieland elder Red Allen (tp) and veteran sessionmen Vic Dickenson (tb), Sam Taylor, Al Williams, Milt Hinton (b) and Osie Johnson (d).  It's easy for the afficianado to write off this session as Langston and the moldy figs, but we're long over that distinction, and we find a number of the performances, especially "Testament," to be full of Langston's bigsoul.  We have no date on this session , except we infer from the date in the Mingus discography that this one takes place in the same year.  The second, recorded March 18, 1958, includes Charles Mingus (b), Shafi Hadi (ts), Jimmy Knepper (tb), Horace Parlan (p, who gets leader credit on the album jacket), and Kenny Dennis (d).  We cannot live on tomorrow forever.  We need to take up the past and make a new present understanding.  Take it on the download and listen hard.  You may remember your ancestors straight.

    • "Consider Me," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Warning: Augmented," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Motto/Dead in There," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Final Curve," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Boogie: 1 AM," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Bed Time," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Day Break," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Tell Me," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Good Morning/Harlem," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Same in Blues/Comment on Curb," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)
    • "Democracy/Island," Langston Hughes w/ The Horace Parlan Quintet (March 18, 1958)

    All this makes us wish for more recordings.  Those Mingus nights, those Webster nights, they must've been, as the kids say, dope.  There must be tapes boxed up at Yale or Schomburg or the LoC.  You won't be finding them be in the old or the new Smithsonian collections, and they won't be in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, or even the three volume version.  The details.  This is what we hear when we listen to Allen Lowe asking us to listen to That Devilin' Tune.  And that's certainly what we wanna hear.

    So we ask The Baron to help us find the devils.  They'll get our ancestors straight.  The Devils?  Could be.  Must be.


    Do You Remember?

    Through thickest glooms look back, immortal shade,
    On that that confusion which thy death has made.

    -- Phillis Wheatley, "On the Death of Dr. Samuel Marshall 1771"

    When we say the dubscience is a conjuring way, we're telling neither secrets nor lies. Dub fulfills the wish of turning making and remaking into one and the same action. It's a way to get more out of nothing, the old surplus value sleight of hand. It's a way of tying together the loose ends, looping the full circle of the root and the branch, the unnaground and the business, the remembered and the forgotten, the dead and the living.

    In this way we find ourselves possessed by Burning Spear's albums Marcus Garvey and Garvey's Ghost. They are simple albums based on each based on a simple concept: the first is a set of 10 songs that invoke the importance of Marcus Garvey to the young Jamaican; the second, a song for song echo of the first. The first is an assembly of a-side versions, the second, its b-side twin.* The back and forth casts the spell of the most powerful purpose: bring back the dead, forgotten leader, who, in new form, might lead us across the water where we can see a new land, a new way of life.

    From the first track, it's a simple spell. It takes the form of a lesson (the subject is history) that comes with twin prospects: the threat of further struggle, even harm, on the one hand, and the promise of relief, even redemption on the other. "Marcus Garvey" is recast into "The Ghost." The a-side begins with the powerful incantation, "Marcus Garvey's words come to pass" in the face of hunger and deprivation, "Can't get no food to eat. Can't get no money to spend," and makes a private offering to the listener, "Come little one, oh let me do what I can for you, and you alone." The b-side is groove alone, fading horns and dubbed piano repeating in the distance against a churning rhythm section, ghostly give and take that does all it can to enact the album's first important proposition: "He who knows the right thing/and do it not/shall be spanked with many stripes," which turns into the plea, "Do right. Do right. Do right Do right. Do right." The a-side is the conjure word; the b-side the the conjure word becomes conjured deed. Now gone in the first breath, it is true to say that "Marcus Garvey's words come to pass" in the form of a ghostly echo.

    Together, the twin albums do this gesture ten times over. "Slavery Days," turns to "I and I Survive." "Jordan River" turns to "Dread River." "Resting Place" turns to "Reggaelation." Taken together they create a simple back and forth, a call and response that creates unity among those who have been separated.  I and I survive?  Yes.  Even with the turn from the first title to the second, the next spell is cast, the next lesson is learned.  It is a way that makes future from the past, and makes new dreams out of old dreams.  And in this way, the dead come back to life.

    Here's a clip of sacred bullets for the double barrel, kingz & queenz.  Humble yourself, my little ones.  Humble yourself.  Wa da da.
    * See:




    Damballah's Divine Graces and Favors

    We were listening to Pharoah Sanders last week, and we were pulled by the gravity of the Karma album to shuffle up all of the version's of Creator Plans we could dig out of the crates.

    This tune is basically a gospel/spiritual collage, a prayer to glue together the loose scraps of the world -- it's past and present, it's eastern coast and its west coast, all of its opposites -- into something satisfying.

    Pharoah's reference version is above all a musical comfort, less raucous than A Love Supreme, even though it's grounded in the same groove and the same aesthetic, and above all it is about the resolution of all of that screamin' and hollerin.'

    The versions that spin out are all versions of the same comfort, some with more surprises to resolve than others. We find the pared down simplicity of the earlier live quartet in many ways more forceful.

    And we find the Leon Thomas/Louis Armstrong take more than a freaky amusement. Pops is dying when he takes up the mike, and yet his voice fills the room with the same depth and volume it does when, say, he steals the show from Ella Fitzgerald in their duet of "Summertime."

    More than once in this here place we have written about the power of the version, the conjure and reconjure that makes up tradition. This clip of bullets remakes point again, different.


    "What a f*cking family picture"

    When we say dubscience, the science we talk to is a conjuring way. It steals the lost from where they were, brings them back transformed. We have nothing to write today about the greatness of the island dub, though ('xcept indirectly we will, because how can we avoid it really -- that's the power that takes over and fills our fingertips with someone else's words). Instead we write about William Attaway, who rises again through the juju of Lil Wayne.

    :: lights cigar ::
    :: mixes vodka w/ a spritzer ::

    William Attaway wandered his life up into a story that has been ignored by biographers. Literary types think of him as a two novel footnote. Brovah gains no mention, for instance, in the 8 volume Cambridge History of American Literature. No matter how infrequently we say his name, there is an accumulation of wisdom in what he left behind when he walked off this earth in 1986.

    His second novel, Blood on the Forge, is built on the rock foundation of the blues, and is most famous for being misremembered by Ralph Ellison for its failings, when its strengths are partly in its single-minded failing to rise up with more than the world offers to those who are displaced. In BotF, you wake at four, you piss on a rock, you hate your boss, you lose your woman, you lose your land, you lose your strength, you lose your sight, you lose the will to sing, and you find yourself going away with no place in mind in the company of blind men who are hearing things. Ain't no transendence to a greater humanity.

    On his journey, Attaway collected calypsos and children songs. He wrote for early tv. And he gave Harry Belafonte the words the words of the dawn, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song.)"

    Harry Belafonte is another misremembered one, because of our problems w/ authenticity. Today's ear places him far from the street. That's a mistake. Like Attaway, he's a rover and holds the gift of crossover, a power much admired by the loa. The one who brings him back needs to remember much, including his genius for funding the early civil rights movement.

    We forget that Calypso, a creole masterpiece, was as big as Michael Jackson in the early days of the ellpee. It's centerpiece, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" is tossed into the crates w/ the novelty songs, samples for sports chants and other negligibles. We should hear it the way we do, of course. But we should be wondering it's constantly returning power, like the smell of honey. And we should think of the juju that created that power.

    "Dayo" is a work song. Tally my bananas, Mr. Tallyman, I want to go home. You'll hear that song over and over again when you thumb the pages of BotF. And you sing it yourself at quittingtime, whether you want know it or not. But Attaway and Belafonte whip up a homegoing that is about more than just the end of the day. Like all of the great sorrow songs, this one is about leaving the world and going back across the water to find the old family, the one lost when we were displaced. It is the full tragic joy of the song, a melody and lyrics we wish we could remember more from, because then we'd be home once and for all.

    So when we spin Lil Wayne's "Six Foot Seven Foot" and we hear the track dubconjure up a groove out of "Day-O," we hear all of Weezy's juju in full effect. On the one hand, it's the standard self assertion at the heart of the blues. "Tell them b*tches I say put my name on the wall./I speak the truth, but I guess that's a foreign language to y'all." Wayne is always capable of taking the form up higher, though, crossing over "like a subject and a predicate."

    But then watch how he do:

    You don't want start Weezy, 'cause F is for finisher.
    Mo misunderstood, but what's a world without an enigma?
    Two b*tches at the same time, snchronized swimmers.
    Got the girl twisted 'cause she open when I twist her.
    Never met the b*tch, but I fuck her like I missed her.
    Life is b*tch, and death is her sister.
    Sleep is her cousin, what a f*ckin' family picture.

    Now he's working the other hand. This is more than the stuff of workingstiff battlerap. Weezy's f*cking w/ the two most powerful women, life and death, synchronized swimmers of the large sea. By the end, all the Guédé are around him and he's in the center. And he's crossing back and forth in a fully breathed exercise of death and fertility that brings Attaway's work back across the water in new form. Work it, bruh bruh.

    Daylight's coming.

    It can't stop. And it won't stop.

    That's what we mean when we say 'til the breakadawn. Ya dig?

    Here's the bullets for this clip.


    Ain't No Telling

    :: lights cigar ::
    :: pours a little liquor on the ground ::

    We blew the dust off some John Hurt songs this morning, and were struck over and over by the way Hurt's soft spoken approach to the blues mixes up w/ the gangsta sh*t he sings about.

    By the end of "Got the Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)," he's done some damage:

    I said, "Baby, what makes you act this a way?"
    I said, "Baby, why did you act this a way?"
    Says I won't miss a thing she gives away.

    Took my gun and I broke the barrel down.
    Took my gun and broke the barrel down.
    Put my baby six feet in the ground.

    I cut that joker so long deep and wide.
    Cut that joker so long deep and wide.
    Yet got the blues and I can't be satisfied.

    When we think dissatisfied, we think the full-throated "I feel like snapping a pistol in your face" hollered by Muddy Waters. John Hurt's soft droning on the guitar and sweet, near whisper make an understated haunt, not the usual volume that cuts a a backdoor man deep and wide. You can make up a catalog of this quiet violence when you dig through the Hurt stacks.

    He delivers it the same way he delivers the much more matter of fact.

    The way I'm sleepin,' my back and shoulder's tired.
    The way I'm sleepin,' Babe, my back and shoulder's tired.
    The way I'm sleepin,' my back and shoulder's tired.
    Gonna turn over try it on the other side.

    Hurt mixes the sweet and everyday in his menace. It sticks in our mind because we can't reconcile it. It's like killing someone because he took your hat. It's also not the voice of someone whose seen trouble all his days. It's the voice of someone who puts trouble after trouble behind, as easy as you can flirt w/a mermaid. But the more we listen, the more we think that's the all about it. It leaves us uneasy in an at ease way. Are you feeling it? Turning around is about the turning, not the next new direction you strike. All directions carry you to your grave. Turning around is the move of the most powerful loa. It's John Hurt's move.

    It's in this sense that we understand "Spike Driver Blues."

    With that in mind, we turn back and restudy John Hurt. With each turn we find ourselves satisfied. So we're loading the clip with some John Hurt bullets:
    • "Got the Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)," 1928.
    • "Big Leg Blues," 1928. Rambling because he's tired of a leg over his in the morning.
    • "Candy Man," 1928. In anticipation of the candy shop, where you can get a lollipop f/ 50¢. "It don't melt away. It just gets better, so the ladies say."
    • "Blue Harvest Blues," 1928. Dread when there should be none.
    • "Spike Driver Blues," 1928. Turns John Henry into a reason to quit altogether. "Take my hammer and give it to the captain." Jyeah.
    Gonna make it to my shanty 'fore day.