Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Blues

Joe "Blue," bringing down the house
When it comes to music, I prefer long ballads and poetry.

But I married a blues musician. Our first years of wedded bliss included dancing every weekend -- with me thinking, "You're not going to repeat that line again, are you?"

The structure of a blues song is so simple it seems cruel. Usually there's nothing more than three stanzas with two repeating lines, followed by a third line -- that replies to the repeating line!

It's enough to drive a novelist straight into the arms of William Faulkner.

But a funny thing happened on the way to growing up: My appreciation for The Blues has deepened every year.

Rock music can obscure any shallow sentiments with decibels and lightning guitar licks. Folk singers can pirouette on brilliant phrasing, even if there's no feeling involved. Grunge grinds down on despair, proving misery loves company. And rap -- well, let's just say rap doesn't belong in this paragraph about music.

Meanwhile, the simplicity of a Blues song works like an auger for truth. The song's meaning doesn't come from its words or fancy chord progressions. Its meaning comes from the heart, and the repeating lines underscore the sentiment -- sorrow, pain, loss, affliction.

A good novelist can't simply type a book. And a true Blues musician can't just sing a song. The common goal is to reach the heart. Which often requires bleeding in public -- on purpose.

Some religious people describe The Blues as "the devil's music." But I think it's closer to the opposite. It's about those sighs "too deep for words."

Recently The Hunk of Italy and I attended the Washington Blues Society's annual awards show. For the second year running, The Hunk was nominated for best blues harp while his band -- Hot Rod's Blues Review -- was nominated for best band. (By the way, double nominations two consecutive years doesn't means poor supply. Just the opposite. Most states are fortunate to have one blues society. Washington has six -- six! -- grooving the Northwest from the Oregon border up to Canada and across the Cascades into Spokane. From April to October, there's a blues event nearly every weekend.) Although The Hunk lost to the gracious and equally talented Jeff Herzog, it was a lovely night at The Triple Door.

And it reminded me once again why The Blues and the people who play it are so special.

Here's the short list:

Age. Other than the beautiful Stacy Jones, who can belt it out like LouAnn Barton, most blues musicians are pushing 40 or 50. A serious percentage are giving 60 new meaning. And since age generally matures the heart, the older the musician, the better his Blues.
      Take that, MTV.

Tone. Not just musically, but conduct. As wild, individualistic, and imaginative as these musicians are, nobody's shouting a blue streak through the microphone or grabbing his crotch or pulling a gun in the parking lot (although those impulses might wind up in a Blues song).

Men in suits. Zoot suits. Double-breasted sharkskin. Suits as green as parrots. Blood-red smoking jackets. Paired with two-tone oxford shoes. And fedoras.
       Man, it's style.

Finally, most importantly, Truth.

These songs of pain and sorrow celebrate life.

Yes, it's a paradox.

Just like another paradox.

A homeless guy was tortured and mutilated and hung on a cross for everybody else's faults -- and we call that day "Good Friday." Scandalous and beautiful, the greatest story ever told reads a lot like a Blues song. A fallen world, the wicked human heart. A fallen world, the wicked human heart. But God came back, He came back.

Now get up and boogie.

Get up and boogie.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Poetry Month

In honor of poetry month -- which, really, deserves to be 12 months long -- I dipped into one of my favorite anthologies.

"Northwest Verse" was published in 1931 by Caxton Press of Caldwell, Idaho.

Most if not all of these early poets from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have been forgotten. But here is just one of its delicious offerings:

   Notes on a Concert

While scientists debated whether
'Twere wise to publish their decision,
The morning stars sang all together
In gay derision.

They said: "This planet is the greater,
And that the less, of those before us."
The stars lampooned each commentator
In ribald chorus.

Antares, Betelguese and Mira,
The big and little constellations,
Sang "fol-de-rol" and "tira-lira"
With variations.

For stars have little else to do
But chant in praise or sing in revel,
And glorify what things are true,
And shame the devil.

But the astronomers still peer
Through telescopes, and jot down data;
They are too occupied to hear
The great cantata.

And one will wag his beard and say:
"Behold, I've solved a hard enigma;
This star, ten billion miles away,
Shall be called Sigma."

                                              ---Stoddard King

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Thanks again for making the Raleigh Parteigh on Facebook such a wonderful event!

I can't think of better company than a lively group readers. Thanks for the smart and witty comments, beautiful pictures, and funny answers.

I'm grateful to each of you for coming out to play Tuesday night.

And because some of us require closure (your humble scribe included) the trivia answers are posted below.

See you at the next Raleigh Parteigh!

What did I do for work before I was an author? Newspaper and magazine reporter (also worked as a farm hand and bartender)

How many books are there in the Raleigh Harmon series? Five, counting next year's release, "The Stars Shine Bright."

How many daughters do I have? NONE! I have sons.

Do you think I have a subscription to Scientific American? Nope. And if you read the blog, you'll see why....

Now, for those of you who have read The Mountains Bow Down – here’s a few questions about the book:

Geert Van Broek is head of ship security. What country is he from? Holland. Bonus question: What agency trained him in law enforcement? Royal Marechaussee

How does Special Agent Jack Stephanson get to Alaska? He flies his plane.

What is a phillumenist? Someone who collects matchbooks. Bonus: Why does that word have two Ls? Because one root of the word comes from Greek (phila) and one root comes from Latin (luma).

Where does Raleigh's mom always go to find peace for her troubled mind? Church or chapel -- God's house.

What is the name of Aunt Charlotte's New Age store? Seattle Stones.

DeMott Fielding's family has lived on the same Virginia estate since the early 1700s. What is the name of that property? Weyanoke. BONUS: Can you name two of DeMott's family members? MacKenna and Jillian are his sisters. Harrison is his father. And Peery is his mother.

And the winner is ... Was it YOU?

I'm thrilled to announce that

Cathy Wilcox from Texas

will soon be sailing on the high seas because she has won a $500 Vacations To Go gift certificate to put toward the cruise of her choice! Amy from Litfuse Publicity Group will be in touch for your info Cathy - congrats.

And thank you to everyone who entered and helped Spread the Word about The Mountains Bow Down!