No More Singing the Job Loss Blues
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And, you know, nobody else seems to be applying for the job right now. The turmoil afflicting the maker of guitars favored by Neil Young, Jimmy Page and Slash is a common story across the industry. Over the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1. In , sales of acoustic guitars outstripped electric.
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Some industry analysts thank Taylor Swift for that shift. The blues ethos knows all this. Those who embody the blues ethos have the wisdom and resilience, the strength of character, to respond to bad luck by setting transformative possibilities in motion. I came to a deeper understanding of the blues ethos after Mr. Satan and I left the streets of Harlem in the early s and began to tour, putting in some serious road-miles.
He was a feelingful man, but an unsentimental one, disinclined to coddle or be coddled. One night when I picked him up at his apartment for a downtown gig, he had a bloody bandage wrapped around his hand. Any other guitar player would have canceled the gig. He played the five-hour gig, wincing occasionally but never complaining. Make the gig: that was his philosophy. The blues ethos in action.
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It put things in perspective. It reframed them in a useful way. Satan was ready. Several summers ago I drew on the blues ethos in a way that showed me the practical efficacy of the concept. With the help of some friends, I had organized a weeklong one-man-band tour that was going to take me from Oxford, Mississippi, up through Columbia, Missouri, to Mankato and St. Paul, Minnesota, back through Chicago, and then home. Two club dates, a festival, and a guest slot in a blues harmonica workshop. Decent money and some professional recognition on my own terms, not as part of a duo.
Two thousand miles, there and back. The night before I was supposed to take off, I came down with a fever.
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I sat there on the sofa at in the morning, thoroughly demoralized, with the entire tour hanging on a thin string. I thought about the young harp guys who had helped set up those two gigs, each of whom was opening for me, and asked myself whether my fever could justify disappointing them. Then I thought back, suddenly, to a tour that Mr. Satan and I had taken in —a trip to Australia, our first.
You want to play this music?
Toughen up. I sat on the sofa, thinking about all this. Then, for no good reason, something inside me reached down and anchored itself in a layer of cussedness lurking just below the feverish negativity. If you have to, you can cancel the rest of the tour first thing tomorrow and drive home. Too many people worked too hard to let that happen.
Thinking about others, reorienting myself toward the blues community, was a part of the cure. But sheer toughness of spirit, a decision to move forward anyway , regardless of how I felt, was also required. As it turned out, everything worked out. I bought the new tires and rolled north; the fever gradually subsided.
Introduction to Blues Music
By the time I hung a left past St. Louis, late that afternoon, I was fine. The tour went off as planned.
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Buddhists talk about the difference between pain and suffering. Pain, they teach, is an inevitable part of embodied life. Suffering, however, is a mental construct—all the feelings of disappointment, negativity, apprehension, and despair with which we routinely surround, and heighten, pain. Blues songs traffic in suffering. See it, say it, sing it, share it. Get it out, by all means. Use harsh humor—near-tragic, near-comic—to kick it away.
Use stoic persistence to get past it. Or not. A member of the University of Mississippi faculty since , his teaching and research interests include American and African American literature; blues, country, and other southern musics; the pastoral South; Freedom Summer; and the shaping role of race on southern culture. Handy, The repetition-with-variation-as-intensification dynamic, so crucial to the language and formal structure of the blues, is one that feels uncannily familiar to those who have suffered on the field of battle that is failed love: I hate you I hate you Take the damn house, and your little dog, too.
Bessie Smith, Jitterbugging in a juke joint on a Saturday afternoon, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Johnson, Bessie Smith sings of being deserted by a new lover, celebrating with vivid suggestiveness his hip-powered prowess and endurance: Bought me a coffee grinder, got the best one I could find Bought me a coffee grinder, got the best one I could find So he could grind my coffee cause he has a new grind. Jitterbugging in a juke joint on a Saturday evening, outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, He was grinning now.
YouTube video, Posted March 22, Handy, Father of the Blues ; repr. James H.
Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues ; repr. Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men ; repr. Howard W. Paige A. Angela Y. Albert Murray, Stomping the Blues ; repr. Kalamu ya Salaam, What Is Life? When are the times you feel your 72 years? Well, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is sometimes weak. I wish I had the hands that I had when I was younger. As you get older, the one thing you look at is your hands, and you can see yourself aging through your hands. Are there any songwriters or musicians whose longevity and career you admire? Not interested. I was hung up on those guys like Tim Hardin, or those kind of singer-songwriter guys.
Aging is very difficult. Some of us are just lumbered with that. What are you up to? Got anything new? Not try and be that Justin that was. Even Keith has some dignity [ laughs ] about the way he does it. I know exactly what you mean — and yes. Is it frightening because of the joy, or identity, you have as a performer? A monastery sounds quite a good idea sometimes [ laughs ]. It was reported that Moody Blues tapes might have been among those destroyed in the Universal fire.
Do you know if they were? I read it, of course, in a newspaper. Nobody called me, because there were much more important people to call or to speak about that.
About Us & the Dirty Blues - Bawdy Blues Suz & Gorgeous George
And some people were very vocal. I never really thought about it at all. We only made one album in America, with a company called Decca — and, of course, Universal bought Decca. But we were on the list. Do you care if your songs outlive you? People love the music of their youth. I think there will always be things that are good, and valid, and interesting, in whatever era. I love that best of all. It was really liberating, and brilliant.