Swimming in Blues Music and Other Streams

An old watercolor of myself playing guitar outside the Silver Dollar Tavern

An old watercolor of myself playing guitar outside the Silver Dollar Tavern

Robert Johnson became the personification of the existential blues singer, unencumbered by corporeality or history, a fiercely incandescent spirit who had escaped the bonds of tradition by the sheer thrust of genius. . . . Like Shakespeare, though, the man remains the mystery. . . . From what remote and isolated well of inspiration did the music and poetry of Robert Johnson emerge? . . . It was a world in which Robert Johnson was suddenly elevated to significance by an act of creative will, by a synthesis of all he knew, of all he ever was to be.

Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson

Good evening, and I apologize for my disappearing act.  I’m afraid I’m not offering much substance tonight, but wanted to re-enter the blogosphere and say to anyone who cares that I’m fine, but drowning in deadlines.  The past couple of weeks have been too busy for my own good, but I like what has happened.  I have returned to my abandoned Martin acoustic guitar, performed in a talent show, reconnected with a Renaissance man who is the best guitar teacher I know, played in a roomful of extraordinary guitarists who make my head swim with wonder and new ideas, presented a history of the blues to a living room salon gathering of kindred spirits, attended a Catholic mass that featured a polyphonic Renaissance repertoire of Latin music, connected with a large classroom full of philosophy students who are overflowing with fresh ideas (reading their journals recently made me shudder in wonder), and found an extraordinary mind in Goethe as I read his Faust in German and English.  What have I left out?  Oh yes, my new Logic class online at Texas Wesleyan University is also giving me a new lease on life, as are my AVID and Art History students at Martin High School.  And oh yes–I just emceed a Super Quiz for the regional Academic Decathlon meet last weekend, always an interesting pageant.

I have spent a large amount of time relearning blues history and playing slide guitar on my acoustic, something I had gotten away from in previous years.  My studies of Delta blues musicians has been an engaging one, especially connecting the Robert Johnson legacy with that line from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” about being a part of all that I have met.  I’m always intrigued with the multiple strands that make up individual creative personalities.  The lines of influence are never linear the way public education wishes we would teach facts.  Human experience is so fascinating and twisted in the best possible sense.  As I read the lives of Robert Johnson, Goethe, and more recently T. S. Eliot, I am always reminded that these men did not pursue a straight path.  No one does.  The tributaries that flow into our psychic mainstream are twisted and meandering, and so are our interests.  The more I work to untangle those tributaries leading toward the delta and finally the ocean, the more fascinated I am with the complexities and possibilities existent in our personal lives.

On a side note–I also posted my sentiments on Facebook yesterday, that I blacked out the Super Bowl for the first time in my personal history–I abhor a systemic cheating team calling themselves Patriots and am insulted as a teacher when I listen to the idiocy of one Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks during media week, wondering how colleges grant degrees to indivduals who become millionaire “professional” athletes, and then parade their ignorance and arrogance, somewhow evoking adulation from citizens and reporters who don’t seem to know any better.  All this on top of a year of the NFL not knowing how to respond to domestic abuse and child abuse made me reach a decision that I am terminating my Sunday Ticket subscription to DirecTV, refusing to send one more nickel to the NFL.  I abhor their bankruptcy of values alongside their financial show of pageantry.  I take my educational profession seriously and don’t want to associate or support public abuse, arrogance or ignorance.  I feel sorry for the billionaires who find value in this, and even more for citizens who think they need it.

To sum up–I am alive, well, overworked, but really wanting to climb back into the blogosphere.  I really want to return to making art, but there are still deadlines crushing me with high school and college responsibilities.  My mind is fertile, I’m loving blues music, the study of art history, philosophy and literature, and hope that very soon I’ll have good art images to show as well as cogent ideas worth publishing.

Thanks for reading.  I really miss writing and publishing for kindred spirits out there.


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3 Responses to “Swimming in Blues Music and Other Streams”

  1. Jeannie Handlang Keller Says:

    Love the painting.


  2. Rhymeless Toast Says:

    I’m kind of flabbergasted with what I’ve just read. Any person that mentions Robert Johnson, Goethe and T. S. Eliot in the same article (let alone the same sentence as you did) is a very fascinating person indeed to me. I’m delighted to hear that you have started playing guitar again and playing slide at that is excellent news. The Blues, acoustic guitar (mostly slide) and poetry are right up there in my list of favourite things in life so I can very much relate to what you are saying, especially regarding Robert Johnson and co. not pursuing a straight path. The other thing that all have in common is the appreciation and acknowledgement of their predecessors and the strong influence they had on them. In Robert Johnson’s recordings there are certain tunes where the link to the influence is so clear and it becomes an education in itself, although a lot of modern day listeners would call it plagiarism, but it aint. It is part of a culture of ‘borrowing’ melody and lyrics, as well as tipping your hat in respect that makes blues and folk music unique and beyond the world of plagiarism for moneys sake. But for all his influences, Robert Johnson took them all, Son House, Skip James, Leroy Carr and many others and created something altogether different.
    Funnily enough it was only last week when I realised that all of Robert Johnsons recordings had been painstakingly remastered and re released and without hesitation I got myself a copy and the difference is staggering, if you haven’t heard the new versions then I seriously recommend them.
    I better start trying to finish this comment or else I fear I may just go on writing for a long time. So briefly, I wanted to mention an artist called Kelly Joe Phelps who was an exceptional lap slide player and but now plays bottleneck slide with the same excellence. For me he was an inspiration as regards slide guitar and also like the aforementioned people he is constantly changing and developing, his stuff is well worth listening to old and new.
    Also wanted to mention the poets Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown who I have only fairly recently (the past year and a half) started getting into. They are blues poets and two of the best blues poets at that. Blues and poetry combined, how perfect is that. Langston Hughes’s ekphrastic poem “The Weary Blues” is exceptional.
    And finally (honestly) I wanted to share this link to a Ry Cooder interview where he starts off talking about Blind Willie Johnson (another big hero of mine) and how he might of played and then gets talking about many other blues related topics including his theory about Robert Johnson and recording facing the wall, it’s quite an old interview but it is absolutely fascinating and Cooder’s enthusiasm and passion are quite addictive and a pleasure to see. Here is the link


    Thanks for mentioning Goethe and the blues in the same article, it has really made my day.

    All the best.


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