“When the Gates Swing Open” (T. A. Dorsey)
Otis Clay (1942-2016), live, Chicago, c. 2007
Al Green (1946-), live, Memphis, 1983
Old recordings, where everyone involved is long dead, don’t just appeal to the ears—they’re springboards for the imagination. Here’s one made in Memphis nearly 90 years ago.
Close your eyes.
Open your imagination.
They’re just about ready to record.
What’s the room look like?
What’s the last thing said before they start?
Tommy Johnson (1896-1956), “Cool Drink of Water Blues” (1928)
Robert Frank (1924-), Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina, 1955/56
Sleepy John Estes (1899-1977), “Diving Duck Blues” (with James “Yank” Rachell, mandolin; Jab Jones, piano), recorded September 24, 1929 (Memphis)
art beat: other day, Whitney Museum of American Art (Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, through February 5th)
Edwin S. Porter, Coney Island at Night (1905)
Vancouver folkie + iconic Memphis rhythm section.
This should never have worked.
But it does, wonderfully.
Frazey Ford, “September Fields” (Indian Ocean), 2014
The climate is pretty.
I wrote everything on it.
That’s the activity where it
gets relatively inauspicious.
And you were sitting there
in the night of life. It sure was good.
My favorite desserts were there.
And when they invite you, it’s like an important document
goes missing. I’ll give you an example:
a twelve-year struggle upstate, in
the slick atmosphere of the breakfast room.
It might have gotten stuck in her farthingale.
Otherwise no reply.
—John Ashbery (1927-), “As Someone Who Likes Travel,” fragments (New Yorker, 5/30/16)
To read Ashbery is to read English as a foreign language—which I mean as a compliment.
Howlin’ Wolf, “Moanin’ at Midnight,” 1951*
Who needs chord changes?
Wolf’s harmonica playing was always the right amount. He would never do anything on the harmonica that would detract from you waiting to get back to Wolf’s voice. . . . There is a certain lonesomeness about the harmonica that just fit the Wolf’s character in voice, in song, in lyric; and he just played that just enough to titillate things he was going to do next with his voice.
*HW (AKA Chester Burnett [1910-1976], vocals, harmonica), Willie Johnson (guitar), Willie Steel, drums.
back to church
Bishop G. E. Patterson (1939-2007) Live, Temple of Deliverance (COGIC), Memphis
The Soul should always stand ajar
—Emily Dickinson (1830-1886; Franklin #1017, fragment)