04 June 2011

22 April 2011

Life Goals

Some day I'm going to own a seedy bar.

I don't mean deliberately shabby bar, full of carefully distressed table tops and antique beer glasses. I want a pool table, mismatched glass, flickering neon signs with bits that no longer light up. I want no music unless it's old blues or slightly newer Motown, and the lingering smell of cigarette smoke, and I want an unwritten rule that nobody dances. Unless it's after midnight and you've had too many and you're going home alone, and then you can pop a nickel (yes, a nickel) in the jukebox and slow dance yourself around the tables.

There's going to be at least one fight every Saturday night in the parking lot, and I'll be sorely disappointed if Baptist preachers don't denounce my bar from the pulpit, and if organizations run by nice Christian women don't try and get my bar shut down. And I'll call it something really cheesy, like the Ace of Clubs.

To hell with your college degrees and tidy homes and 2.5 kids and all those other things people think they want. I want a seedy bar.

19 April 2011

“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” --T.S. Eliot

18 April 2011

Five Things That Make An Ordinary Summer Extraordinary

Thing Number Five: Going to the Drive In

I grew up next door to a drive in theatre, so number ten has a special place in my heart. We could hang out on my grandma's roof, with a radio station dialed in to the movie audio, and watch a movie any time we wanted, at least until I was eight or so and the drive in was torn down.

I'm going to date myself and admit that I watched E.T. the Extraterrestrial a million times out my bedroom window, which also directly faced the drive in movie screen. It was great until the place deteriorated into showing mainly softcore porn, not good viewing material for a kid. Now it's a trailer park.

But drive in theatres, although rare, still exist. There's one about an hour's drive from my house, and seeing a movie there is a different kind of magic altogether from watching a movie in a regular theatre. The screen is big and the movies always look like they're in soft focus; the audio isn't the greatest. But there's nothing like taking a convertible to the drive in, watching a movie with your feet up on the dash. You can hear the crickets chirping in the woods. There's a real intermission, and during it you can go buy real drive in food and take it back to your car and watch people while you eat it. Or you can hang around the concession stand and play a thirty year old game of Ms. Pac Man.

If you get tired of the movie, you can lean your head back and look at the stars, and if there's a scary part you can cuddle up close to your date. More than once I've gone in my pajamas. It's a lost pleasure, almost, but it's still possible to find a drive in. It's still possible to find that kind of magic.

The Secret

I don't know the secret of success... but the secret of failure is to try and please everybody.

--Adam Lambert

16 April 2011

Resting in the Blues

This is one of the two confirmed pictures that exist of early Delta blues legend, Robert Johnson.

Only twenty nine of Johnson's recordings exist, and practically nothing in his biography can be taken as fact. We don't know for sure when he was born, or what killed him. His death certificate says only 'no doctor' in the section where the cause of death is meant to be described, and his place of death says only that he was outside Greenwood, Mississippi.

Yet he's a genius, no doubt about it. His voice is wavering, high, eerie and supernatural, and his guitar playing is so good that experienced and talented musicians have a hard time recreating it. The picture below is the only other confirmed picture. Note his unnaturally long fingers.

Robert Johnson was born out of wedlock, and his mother went on to have ten other children. One imagines that he got the short end of the stick when it came to attention and affection, and he married young, perhaps looking for that missing something. But his young wife died in childbirth, and he, a widower at nineteen, must have decided that a dusty sharecropper's cabin in Mississippi and a dozen children weren't meant to be his fate.

He's remembered as being a novice, not very good, someone who 'annoyed crowds' with his inept guitar playing. And then he disappeared for two years, apprenticing himself to a blues musician named Zimmerman, and when he came back, he could play any song he wanted. And not just the blues; he played polka, country, and pop. Either he got really good, really fast, or he did just what the legends say he did. He sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads.

Johnson became a 'walking musician,' traveling the South, playing for coins on street corners, at dances, and in juke joints. He was said to have a string of women, one in every town, who were glad to see him every time he came around. But he never spent more than a few weeks in one place, and then he disappeared, onto the next town, the next woman.

He had a little success with a raunchy tune called the Terraplane Blues, and he made his only known recordings at that time, including a couple of tunes called, notably, Hellhound on my Trail, and Crossroad Blues. Was he thinking about his deal with the devil? Was he regretting it, and did he have some premonition that it was about to catch up with him?

Johnson died on August 16, 1937. He was twenty six or twenty seven years old. It might have been strychnine poisoning that killed him, poison that was put in a whiskey bottle by a jealous husband. It might have been syphillis. Or, possibly, it might have just been the hellhound on his trail.