Check In w/ the Blue Mirror


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: