The faster the wheels of technology whirr, the more I fear (or resent?) that “old things” will be ground to dust in the gears. Perhaps I’m an ignatz, but I’ve always approached any awesome tunes I’ve heard as permanent fixtures in my life, and the makers of those tunes as people to stay connected with, to root for, and watch. “Because I Got High”? YES. Toussaint McCall? YES. I’m just not quick to discard (I feel the same way about humans I actually know). I tend to hold these things close for a good long while, aiming for forever, whatever that means. On my lips, at the end, my version of “Rosebud!,” even if I will be 40 years past the minting of this line: “I may not live past 21 / But ohhhhhhh–what a way to die!!!!”
Thus I’m dedicated to the old shit, as well as the new. It’s ritualistic. In any given week, I’ll have knelt at the altar of the verities many times. Just as a for-instance, here are the gods and goddesses that have compelled me over the past week, with a brief, I hope not too glib line of commentary:
Mary Lou Williams: from the late ’20s all the way through the ’70s, this Pittsburgh-born piano genius wrote, arranged, and rocked the keys across almost every jazz style–and vied in public with the fierce force known as Cecil Taylor.
Jimmy Rushing: like Williams a musician who came through and left his mark on Missouri, he was a singer for whom ebullience was a given. That’s no small compliment in my book; facing the apocalypse, I’d take him over Big Joe Turner.
Blood and Fire Records: I’m not sure of the label’s present state of fortitude, but Steve Barrow (and assorted others) gloriously succeeded in fully representing the full canon of Seventies reggae and dub–y’heard of Yabby You, Sylford Walker, Keith Hudson, or Niney? Or know the difference between the I-“boys”? I thought not.
Rosalia: Yeah, homey, I know she’s only 25, but she didn’t come out of know-where. She’s so bewitched me recently I’ve had to scour the past for her singles and collabs, and they are not temporary things.
Excello Records: Thought I’d heard what I needed to hear from this Nashville-fed-by-Louisiana blues-soul-gospel-r&b label, but dear lord I was mistaken. Read a book on the subject recently and was led to discover that all three of the label’s Heart of Southern Soul volumes are pretty essential. Humble, but transcendently so in many cases.
Joy Division: I will confess to having had quietly but deeply dark moods since my teenhood, and thus Ian Curtis always made sense to me. But Jon Savage’s recent oral history of his band revealed just how normal the whole enterprise actually was. Nonetheless, Curtis’ nakedness resounds, and will continue to.
Hank Thompson: One of the four great Fifties Hanks (Williams, Penny, and Snow being the others), Thompson was the most warmly fun-loving and regular-guy-ish–and the second-most fecund.
Cabaret Voltaire: I unfairly scoffed at many un-punk British bands of the ’80s, but I always wondered if their rousing Rough Trade Wanna Buy a Bridge? placing, “Nag Nag Nag,” augured other glories. Turns out, maybe-kinda.
Ice-T: The man’s moved on from hip-hop, but somehow, as much success as he found in its practice, I feel he has come to be underrated. Assured, inventive, astute, provocative, and in love with a story, he remains a master MC in the rap pantheon. I once used this song in a 10th grade English class and we talked about it for two periods.
Sir Shina Peters: I thought King Sunny Ade was the end-all in Nigeria juju. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong.
Why do I have to be tipsy in a hotel room to write?