24 October 2020

Willie Dixon made sense



I have heard of the blues. I’ve heard of jazz. I’ve heard of rap. I can recognize rap. I remember someone saying, perhaps in a song, something along the following lines: ‘Rap music is not black music, it is the latest black music.’ And I remember someone else telling me that most music genres in North America were the creations of black artists.

And I remember what an Ethiopian artist in a restaurant in Boston had to say by way of an educational interlude. If I remember right, the name of the restaurant was ‘Asmara’ which is now the capital of Eritrea. Back then, it was part of Ethiopia. There’s politics in the name, but I didn’t know that then. The artist didn’t get into it either. He spoke of his instrument. The krar or krar-harp, a five or six stringed bowl shaped lyre. ‘This is what the guitar evolved from,’ he said. I would later learn about ‘Black Athena’ the three volume treatise on the Afroasiatic roots of the so-called ‘classical civilization’ written by Martin Bernal.

I digress.

I know very little about music. I wouldn’t be able to distinguish jazz from the blues. Naturally, I didn’t know that there was a thing called ‘Chicago Blues.’ I didn’t know of William James Dixon (1915-1992). I didn’t know that quite apart from being a musician, vocalist, arranger and record producer, he is also known as one of the most prolific songwriters of his time who, as Wikipedia has it, ‘next to Muddy Waters, is the most influential person shaping the post World War II sound of the Chicago Blues.’ I didn’t know that he received a Grammy and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I didn’t know about Huddie Leadbetter either; Huddie, from whom my friend Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta states ‘[he] learned that if we gonna say something, we shouldn't waste people's time.’ Kris posted the following lines from Huddie’s ‘Bourgeois Blues’:

Yes, Washington's a bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
Home of the brave, land of the free
I don't wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie
Lord, in a bourgeois town
Yes, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
I'm gonna spread the news all around

Well, I didn’t know about Willie Dixon and I didn’t know that he was jailed by the US government for refusing to go to war against Korea. In 1983 he released what is probably the most radical song he’s penned. It was titled ‘It don’t make sense if you can’t make peace.’

You have made great planes to span the skies
You gave sight to the blind with other men's eyes
You even made submarines stay submerged for weeks
But it don't make sense you can't make peace
You take one man's heart and make another man live
You even go to the moon and come back thrilled
Why you can crush any country in a matter of weeks
But it don't make sense you can't make peace...


That was 37 years ago. This song is not talked of much. Wikipedia doesn’t mention it. Wikipedia doesn’t mention that he was jailed and as such doesn’t have to say why he was jailed. Useful information source, but then again, it just goes to show that bourgeois town spreads convenient news for the most part and that we got to counter it by telling the other side of the story. The bad news about stuff; for example the fact that the difference between fascism and capitalism is that the latter is dressed better, powdered and frilled. The same monster underneath.

There’s history and there’s ‘hiddenstory.’ Had Kris not mentioned Huddie and Willie (and Elizabeth Cotton: ‘Freight train, freight train, run so fast…Please don't tell what train I'm on…They won't know what route I'm going….'), I wouldn’t have known about Chicago Blues. I wouldn’t have known about the kind of radicalism these artists demonstrated in life choices and words. Indeed, I may have forgotten ‘Black Athena,’ Martin Bernal and that artist in an Eritrean restaurant in Boston.  

Good to remember.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']  
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten   Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing

Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ alre
ady a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Ange
A dusk song for Rasika
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?

Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer