Wednesday, September 29, 2010

18. The Blues and Unified Theories

A crowd had gathered near the entrance to the Clinton Presidential Library and I could hear music so I walked that way. There, in the center of a great deal of excitement was a blues singer. Thin, leathery, and missing a couple of teeth, his ebony-black skin was glistening from the midday heat. He was picking a time-encrusted Fender Telecaster plugged into a small, battery-powered amplifier. He was belting a fair version of Kind-Hearted Woman Blues. The crowd loved it.

He finished a verse, added a neat run on the A minor scale and finished. “Thankee,” he said to the crowd’s approving applause. That’s when I knew.

Yeah, it was C.W. alright. But how did he learn to sing? I remembered the last time he tried. It was pitiful. I stood and watched as a few coins sailed into his guitar case.

“Thankee, thankee,” he said. “Now I got to be goin’. The city don’t allow no guitar playing colored men in their parks. I be back later.” He gathered the coins, stored his guitar, and looked up at me. He grabbed his amp and guitar and walked over.


“Don’t call me that. And what are you doing?”

“Let’s walk,” he said.

So there we went. A strange couple if there ever was one. A fat old white man and an ageless blues singer ambling along as if the world had been created in their honor.

He broke the silence first. “Tell me what you think is the most moving literature your planet has produced so far—I mean that which has most affected the way your people write in prose and poetry.”

I thought. “Maybe Shakespeare?”

Good choice. Some would argue the Bible but for some reason your myth-spirits gave Brother Bill a big edge in the writing business.” He looked over at me. “You white folks got funny ways.”

I ignored him and kept walking.

“Now what poetic meter did Billy use?”

“I am told that it was the iambic pentameter.”

“Precisely, Now tell me what modern form of music do you find most expressive, emotionally that is, and across the broadest spectrum of folks.”

It was a trick question and I knew it. “Maybe the Blues.”

“Maybe. Now what rhythm does it employ?”

“Iambic pentameter.”

He started singing: “This old man got a funny point to make ...”


“This old man got a funny…”

“Cut that out, C.W.,” I snapped just as we met two tourists coming from the other direction. They scowled at me.

“Your species is real interested in finding a so-called “unified theory of the universe.”

“Yes, and?”

“Maybe it’s the iambic pentameter,” he stopped to study a sculpture of a boy and his grandfather heading off on a fishing trip. “Or maybe fishing.”

The Blues Rule!

“What on earth are you talking about and where did you learn to sing?”

“I’m talking about the tendency of your species to look for answers in all the wrong places,” he said as we walked on. “And I got my music abilities at the Crossroads.”

Editor's Note: C.W. wants me to remind everyone that the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival will take place in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas on October 7, 8, and 9, 2010. See He is threatening to appear on some street corner. I don't know.

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