Daily Archives: May 20, 2004

Playing the Blues Again

When you play the blues,
at some point,
you’ve got to decide.

Whether to play around the issue,
like Charlie Parker,
flitting in and out just hinting at the melody,
giving subtle suggestions
on the point you’re trying to make
but usually ending up burning out
to some tangent
at the far reaches
of reality;
or like B.B. King,
making up the melody as you go along,
the result of the mere fact
that your confident fingers
are making the strings move
“a little something,”
“exactly” like this,
creating in the moment,
at the speed of now
the counterpoint
against which the chords themselves
are measured and never found wanting.

What it comes down to,
ultimately, is what you don’t choose
to say,
the space you leave between the notes,
the way your sentences leave your lips —
like staggering, happy drunks or
like sober fools discussing semantics or
liike a kiss that promises more
a kiss, as Satchmo sang,
to build a dream on.

Of course,
there’s another decision you need to make first.
There is a juncture in your life as a Musician
(or in the Music of your living),
a crossroads to which you come
like Robert Johnson,
running from back doorstep
of one jealous cuckolding woman
to another
(lying with your eyes
while your hands are busy working
and it’s not so much that you decide
to sell your soul to the Devil,
or pick the mistress whose cooking
is better,
even if the other’s goose
lays the golden egg.

When you’re standing at the crossroads
if you take a step in any direction
you pick from among unknowns,
strange shadows of possibility
that can only suggest.

Because faith is inhale
and doubt is exhale
part of the same flow of
stale, cigarette- and whiskey-stained air
that creeps into your clothes
and under your fingernails
stretching out your lungs in wild gasps,
the choice is not between
heaven and hell
good and evil
black and white
sanity and madness
rich and poor.

It’s about trusting yourself
even though you know you don’t
know nothing.

And that’s the secret
of playing the blues,
whether you want to tell the world about it,
or simply flash hints of the light
you’re hiding under a barrel;

either way, you make it sound
like it’s the first time
you ever played it,

but you’ve been listening
long enough
to know what to say.

20 MAY 2004

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