NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 116

m Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott with John Oliver Killens and Romare Bearden in the background. 57 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE “Yeah. My grandmother knew all about that power.” “Scary to us kids, seeing grown folks you revered being sanctified. Getting the spirit. Jumping up in the air all of a sudden, being healed. Was in my teens, before I knew what it all meant in the music. The connection of the power, the mystery between the Spirituals and the Blues. Thinking on God and then on the world… I wanted to find out what the mystery was about. Why did they call it the Blues? Spirituals on the Missouri side and the Blues on the Mississippi side. Both, I discovered, were the same inside to me.” Ignoring his remarks about the cigarette, “But you didn’t go for The Blues, gospel or what?” “I am trying to tell you. I did not see music that way back then and surely not as a way to make a living for quite some time. See,” smiling at the thought of it, “we had never heard of Rock n Roll. It…music did not have different names to us,” his face changing to a laugh again, and again not audible. “When I first heard of it, Rock n Roll, I thought it was some kind of Chinese food or new drink or something. Now Rhythm n Blues, that was a different story. Understood what they meant right off the bat.” The silent grin changed to a contemplative scowl. “It was like some kind of watered down Blues, at least the way I first heard it. The beat was stronger, maybe, but some ingredient passed over. You did not really feel it the same way, as you did with Delta Blues. The way most of us heard it, the real part was left out, on purpose, like something inside you did not want to deal with anymore. A faster style to get set free, I guess, if you can make the people forget first, at least for a few minutes. Everything changed, when blacks made it up North for that promise where there was no fields or levees, no room for certain parts inside to bring along. Well, at least not so anyone would notice what things were cut out in the new way.” “But they didn’t reject it. Maybe just forgot?” “They could not. No, the cats knew inside that you could not separate the gut from wherever you laid your hat no matter how you might try to, or appear like they got rid of it. The pain could not escape from the truth. The mystery a place you could not ever get away from.” Joe became silent observing a vanishing glare of twilight, as if it were that place inside. “Up North” right hand off the steering wheel, he absent-mindedly scratched his head, “with that sacrifice spirt for a better life. Progress some call it gave the Blues a new bent, but like trying to shed the skin off yesterday, you could no more get the scars of working a plow off your hands than color off your skin. You wanted, more than anything, to forget what made you have to get up like at this very hour right now and get behind that plow. What every black man and woman had to swallow inside, one way or another. All the determination in the world could not solve the mystery or make it go away, if you are black. Some understood that. Some ashamed knowing it, not calling it shame but the opposite: pride, that funny kind of pride just went along with the show like signifying monkeys. And those about faith just waiting on the afterlife.” “And you, Joe? Which group did you fit into?” Caught off-guard by her question, “Me? Neither. I am reflecting, honey-girl. By the time I saw a real city, I figured an elevator in one of those skyscrapers could take you straight to Heaven, but was not so sure I wanted to go. It was all grey and marble and smelled like Chicago. Brown wasn’t brown anymore like a river but like garbage, slaughter- houses, and sewers smeared together from a dirty brush stroke. Shadows don’t smell, but they did in Chicago. Of course, the tambourines, hollering, all the stomping in church came North with us. That part did not so much change in the music as some attitudes did while trying to adopt, prosper. For many, how they were perceived took precedence in their new world. You best believe not all Negroes were thrilled that their kin brought their Gullah ways with them. Everyone did not see and seek the same things out of opportunity. To live better didn’t mean the same thing to everyone.” Easter was moved by how Joe revealed and explained so much. She’d never heard him open up like this before. Knowing a great deal of what he shared was not the same as understanding it, she realized. He continued his lecture to the highway. “Plugging in your guitar meant money, maybe some fame, something better than the way it had been. And if that meant singing, not about Jesus and Mary but Frankie and Johnnie, or about a fast, big car instead of a chariot, well so be it. You just left the core of the apple out and went for a different kind of pie. That did not mean any of the mystery inside disappeared. That power meeting between the Holy Ghost and the devil at the crossroads had different exits down the road. Solomon and Sheba, Cain and Abel, that same fallen angel led the same chorus,” and Joe winked at Easter with something deviously amusing in his eye. Lost in the sound of sandpaper the wheels made on the highway, Joe lost all expression on his thick brown face. “We have no say in the destiny of that power, but in the one gift we talk about the least, the one of choice that speaks more than words. The mystery is how we come to tell the difference. I think, if we are blessed, a little bit of humility might come on one of those drop-off points down the road, kind of like this highway. Hell, after we have been lost on it or abused by it and been misled by it long enough. The hitching heart is a hurt heart not forgetting why you ran away but confused about where you thought you wanted to go, honey-girl.” Suddenly turning to Easter, his huge eyes watering, “I was never afraid. I knew pride falls first and shame a sin,” and again deeply was the rumble of a laugh like a thunder clap muffled from down his chest, never quite overtaking the distant horizon of his soul. Throwing the cigarette out the window to its doom, acutely listening, surmised more than asked: “And choices? All along with the mystery, even if you find out what you have no control over? 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