Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday morning blues

The various concepts of the blues encompass a wide variety of human psychological and aesthetic experiences. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes the emotional state as "low spirits : melancholy [as in] a case of the blues". In musical terms, the blues refers to any of several rhythmic/harmonic formats used in genres roughly definable as jazz and rhythm and blues (R&B), with various regional stylistic variants: e.g., "Chicago Blues", or "Memphis Blues", or topical variants, as in "hokum [humorous or satyrical] blues."

A ghazal couplet in Urdu by my dissertation poet, Mirza Ghalib, is beautifully translated by the blues lyric "Don't start me talkin', I'll tell everythin' I know. . . . ." So this is not meant to be a discussion of the wonderful musical and lyrical richness of the blues themselves, but just a departure to share with you how I am feeling this morning after three wonderfully (and exhaustingly) busy weeks, on both the musical and digital fronts, each involving deep exploration into new territories. And now it's a pre-dawn Saturday morning, and after only four hours' restless sleep (dreams of traveling underground, avoiding the soldiers in a hostile city; lost eyeglasses; trying to avoid deep crevasses in my quest toward unknown destinations . . . . ), and awakening in a wash of guilt for the several half-drafted or even unwritten blogs troubling my soul:

Woke up this mornin', blues all around my head
Woke up this mornin', blues all around my head
Worryin' 'bout those blogs that if they ain't written, they sure thing won't be read

(missing my old Stella twelve-string guitar, with which, during my incandescent summer in Yellowstone in 1961, I used to jam most memorably late starry weekend nights with a tall, bearded forest ranger on the bass--his name hiding just the other side of a wall in the mottled mists of youthful memory)

The pre-dawn period is a wonderful time for Hindustani classical music, my metier: quiet, meditative, peaceful, sometimes tinged with sadness or remorse; perhaps the saddest raga of all being Bilaskhani Todi, said to have been created by the son (Bilas Khan) of the great dhrupad singer Miyan Tansen, one of the nine jewels of the court of the great Indian Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605), after Tansen's death in the 1580's. It is said that the son's performance of this raga, created by him spontaneously in his grief for the occasion, was so powerful that the head of the father's corpse was said to have moved from side to side in the uniquely Indian gesture of appreciation.

Woke up this morning, these damn blues ALL around my head
Woke up this morning, those notes buzzin' all in my head
If I don't practice some, my music it soon be dead

my sitar sits in the corner, silent in the darkness
my laptop glowing brightly on my lap
conflicted, I hold my fingers poised. . . .

And drifting through my brain, the sublime musical strands, most recently, of the Silk Road Ensemble's luminous performance at the splendid Strathmore Art Center on Wednesday.

The bear-like forest ranger's name comes, miraculously, back to me: Swearingen! Paul Swearingen!

The furnace kicks on downstairs, the radiator ticks, out of synch with the clock on the mail table. So many fine musical memories of these three weeks (the many Arabesque evenings, the Post-Classical Ensemble, The Chieftains, and Yo-Yo Ma and his amazing global retinue), and so little time to be able to try to capture in words those experiences. . . . .

And my hands and heart longing to gather up my beloved sitar

Wish me luck. Time for more espresso as I listen to the trucks groaning and cars whizzing by intermittently (governed by the traffic light nearby on the corner) on C Street NE outside, and wait for the sun to rise.

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