Sunday, June 15, 2014

Blurred and Muddy

Another Saturday post-gig late-night.  All musicians have these hours where you are wired and tired but never that good kind of closure-exhaustion like doctors have after a successful surgery.  It is we who feel cut open and badly sutured too often-- we are the operators, but we are also the patients; we suffer from our own performance-- we criticize and rehash and wonder how we ever got the idea of standing in front of a drinking crowd while we pour out our hearts and try to make our instruments speak our angst.  Why would anyone want to do such a thing-- public humiliation, emotional guillotines, our own version of original karaoke of ourselves without a prompt?

Nothing I can locate on the new Time Warner line-up.  Of course, once I get used to numbers and a system-- -they change it.  Nothing is ever familiar these days; even my dial-tone tonight seems wrong.  PBS is usually good for a 4 AM film--- but at the moment they are once again showing this Muddy Waters/Rolling Stones/Chicago from 1981.  I've seen this before--- several times, although somehow I've never been able to stay with it.  Tonight I'm a little desperate for distraction, can't face Facebook or my voicemail… tomorrow the gig won't be quite as raw as it seems in the immediate 'wake' hours; I need to feed the distance.  Suddenly 1981 seems kind of innocent.  Muddy is the young/old Muddy I remember meeting at the Bottom Line.  I sat on his lap that one night--- on his hard, trunk-like legs and felt his calloused rough hands.  I was kind of a girl.  Bob Dylan sat in, too, that night-- not on him but with him, although Muddy seemed to care little for Dylan who was in one of those periods where he'd lost a considerable amount of star power.  Hard to imagine.  

The Checkerboard 1981 seems like a hold-over of the 70's.  People were still badly dressed; Mick has on some kind of lame orange-colored v-neck track suit or sweat pants.  He is chewing gum while Keith swills his Jack and looks still like the old Keith in his white Oxford shirt.  Muddy seems not all that impressed by the Stones although he seems to enjoy repeating 'Mick Jagger' in that great Muddy accent which post-Adam Levine has new irony.  Mick is goofy and mugging for maybe some girl.  Of course the whole night is a set-up.  I read somewhere the Stones asked the club owner to let in mostly black people and he could only muster like 10.  They show the waitress numerous times… the whole table-seating thing is annoying and obtrusive.   Muddy is unflappable.  He is rough and raw and always the same--- just right--- never slick, always gets you.  All these forgettable rap lyrics we incessantly hear … all the Jay-Z dynasties and unbreakables and niggahs… and Muddy says You don't have to go and it is enough.  Mick mugs and imitates and even wails a little, but there is something silly and childish even with Keith and Ronnie licking out.  It was better before they got up there.  But it took all those people sitting in to make us realize how much better it was before they got there, even though no one would have filmed it.

There is something still innocent about these rockstars going to a small club, even with the film crew and the set-up and the girlfriends and the entourage and the bottles of Jack flowing and the bullshit.  There is still something innocent because the music is still live and no auto-correct or backing tracks and it's American black music from the time just before Hip-Hop and it feels rootsy and folksy and direct and important. This is a document-- not so much editing and we hear the music, we know the truth.  It is a truth that obsesses the Stones, and Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin, Clapton--- all the white rock stars.  And there is Muddy… same as he ever was, with his big face and big hands, and his You said you loved me baby…why don't you call me on the phone when people still had those big black receivers and curly cords and you had to be home when your baby called and it was important and magical.

1981---before AIDS was discovered-- people still had the 70's recklessness and the time factor in relationships because there was no email or texting and no overkill.  There was still the 'waiting'.   Songs and records and tapes and radio were important.  John Lennon had just been killed--- we were still in shock, but in a way that marked the end of the 1970's...   I remember that year so well--- as I entered Central Park today for my gig--- I thought about how none of that Strawberry Fields hype existed, none of the shitty folkies sitting around playing Lennon songs for tourists and cheap photo ops of the sundial with flowers and John and Yoko memorabilia.  John still wandered our streets and peeked into local bars and shops.

I had just moved into this model's apartment--- it felt like a palace-- it had double-height ceilings and a brick wall and a sleep loft and a tiny balcony.  I knew I'd be the happiest I'd ever be in that place, and I was.   Right at that moment when Mick was onstage at the Checkerboard, I had my appendix out and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were down the hall and we'd hang out on the hospital roof.  Everything was perfect.  My love affairs and my stray dog and my apartment and my new bass guitar and the gigs at CBGB's.

Tonight those PBS Stones (and I, too, for that matter) have all since finished with their future babies and those kids are grown, and except Keith, most of the wives and girlfriends have separate lives… they are gray and wrinkled and changed, and the money flows, the Jack Daniels has maybe stopped-- -the gum-chewing silliness.  Our Muddy is long gone, and only the memory of his wooden hands is with me… and the sameness of his performance--- always Muddy---hard again, hard always… just the recording quality changing… but the blues, despite the millions of bands who claim to own it and feel it and play it… the blues will always belong to Muddy…and John Lee… and Albert and Freddie and BB… like a primary color.  We pay tribute, we learn, we listen… but like the past we can't change what preceded us-- no surgery or remixes can alter what was, clear as clear, pure as pure.  Everything but muddy, no matter how we try or do not try to muck it all up.


Ludovica said...

Having seen the footage from Saturday's gig in Central Park I can honestly say you guys were great.. Joe was stellar, and Alan did amazingly considering how unwell he has been of late. If I'd have been there (and a few other professionally uncool cheerleaders like me) capering about, maybe you'd not be so hard on yourself. A lot of those people probably had no idea what they were witnessing. You dont expect real life rock royalty to turn out for a neighbourhood picnic. It's my experience that a lot of people have difficulty displaying public appreciation. Sometimes people need to see other people digging it before they can let themselves go with the flow

People are so self contained these days. Anything bordering on emotion tends to be suppressed. I remember hearing that once upon a time, I don't know if this is still true, Japanese audiences were incapable of more than polite applause which was very discouraging to many performers. I feel like we are gradually going the same way. Public exuberance can sometimes end in the police cells. It's hard to make any sort of a complaint or have any sort of debate without being accused of shouting and being abusive. People seem to have zero tolerance of anyone even mildly disputing what they have been told. We are expected to conform to some homogenized code of behaviour that mostly involves doing exactly what you are told, never making a scene or raising your voice above a monotone.

Forget all that stuff. You guys were great ♥

The Blues always seemed to me to be like a rare ore, something that people like the incomparable Steve Marriott managed to craft into something quite exquisite and other-worldly. As you say, Muddy Waters was grabbing it up out of the earth so pure and solid. He and all those old blues dudes, male and female alike had that spiritual authenticity, they had lived the Blues. It's strange that it needed to be exported to Europe and then re-imported to make the jump across the cultural divide. There was a curious symbiosis wherein Muddy connected the Stones to that authentic source they craved and the Stones embrace of the Blues and its exponents gave the music some degree of acceptance in a hideously divided society. In making Blues music fashionable in the USA, it could be argued that "The British Invasion" bands did a good deal to begin to break down some of the barriers.
Mick Jagger isn't a great singer, but he is a tremendous showman and his particular brand of charisma, whilst not appealing to everyone has laid its branding iron on six decades now. He's one of the people who helped shape the way we look at the world, an influencer, and I believe, for the good. I tend to disregard his more human failings as ultimately inconsequential in the vastness of history

Billy said...

Muddy was great...He'd let us hang out...We'd get pot for him...Great guy!