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Posts Tagged ‘James Baldwin’

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it.  And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations.  But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”  — Sonny’s brother in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

boston harbor blue, may 2014

boston harbor blue, may 2014

I’ve been lucky enough to know people with a wide variety of tastes in music, and I’ve especially appreciated their attempts to express what the music evokes for them.  I wouldn’t mind asking my father what the blues did for him, but I don’t really need any concrete words. I’ll always remember the looks on his face as he played those 78s.  He loved listening to the blues (and wasn’t too bad playing along on a harmonica).   He played the blues a lot after my mother passed away, mostly, because he had the freedom to do so.  You see, my mother hadn’t been too keen on that music.  It made her too sad. But, that music, no matter how dark, seemed to put some pep in my father’s step even as he wiped away tears.

I was reminded of my parents, and other family and friends, as I recently read James Baldwin’s short story, Sonny’s Blues, about two brothers coming to understand one another.  Near the end, the youngest brother, the troubled one, and the musician, is up on stage, playing the blues as part of a quartet.  As the older brother reflects upon what he is seeing and hearing, the reader is reminded that music can be a salve for old wounds, a bridge between past and the present, and, perhaps most importantly, it is through music that life is shared.  As Baldwin writes, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.

blue lillies along the mystic, 2014

blue lillies along the mystic, 2014

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In the following 1965 debate that took place between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Baldwin refers to “forty years ago when I was born …” Perhaps, because of my age, the phrase struck a chord.  The debate takes place at Cambridge University, and its focus is that ever-evolving, often elusive concept of the american dream, and at whose expense that dream is realized.   The whole debate is 58 minutes long.  With all due respect to Mr. Buckley and his rebuttal, I am encouraging/challenging people to listen to at least the first part of the debate, the remarks of Baldwin.  Whatever one’s political or social leanings, his command of language is a marvel to watch and listen to.

As I listened to Baldwin I was saddened at the timelessness of his words.  Why are his words, spoken nearly fifty years ago, as relevant today?  In a related side note, this morning I had the opportunity, by phone, to singalong with my four-year old nephew, Jordan.  Apparently we both like to whistle.  As I listened to Baldwin, I thought of Jordan and other little family members new to the world.  I hope that they learn about Baldwin as a writer and an activist in his own unique way, and that they also learn about the power of words.

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New posters available in my zazzle shop.  Just a few African violet petals, some shadows resting on snow and a rainbow cupped within a shell.  As I originally studied these images, I thought them sensuous and I was reminded of something James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time, “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.”  I sometimes worry that I am procrastinating as I watch sunlight settle upon a leaf … but then I just shake myself and become thankful that I could be present in the moment. 😉

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