Thoughts on ‘82
The year I was born, my grandmother hummed so many bridges between jazz and blues under the weight of thick black eyeliner and the blue shadow of U Street days. The younger music got muffled under laps of the rosary.
In between the first and second job and 3 square meals for me and my older brother, my mom lit our house’s yellowing panels with new crooners (and squealers): Miki Howard, Taja Seville. My mother’s blues was Phyllis Hyman. I learned the mood of a color both exuberant and dark as the bottom of the Anacostia River. There was always blues-influenced GoGo, but blue is not what I remembered about GoGo. It was the gray corners, the thick, white plastic buckets, the green, red or ash-colored milk crates, the sticks (and sometimes, they were just thick twigs), a brother all piled on the corner near Woody’s or somewhere in Chinatown. The blues was there, but it seems only Chuck knew it.
My encounters were brief until I slowly sought new encounters with old voices, instruments, Miles, Billie, Coltrane. They were distant Aunts and Uncles who I had heard of but never knew, kin whose blues wasn’t mine. When I first heard a recording of Hathaway singing, For All We Know, the startling tears let me know Janet Jackson hadn’t been doing her job though Pleasure Principle and Nasty were still the jams. The Cosby Show intros and outros sang to me sometimes when I was busier following the swing of little Rudy’s thick fuzzy ponytail and digging Denise’s shoulder-baring tops.
Somehow blues, jazz became a mechanism for writing, a guiding rhythm for what I perceived as poetry. I didn’t recognize any blues or jazz in my own, but others recognized it in poems about caviar and cognac or Kim Jong Il. The fact that it was felt made me want to up my game, dig more blue-ly. I can’t funk with the ancestors lightly.
What kind of sorrow is worthy of consumption, bedtime whistles from saxes? I didn’t know. Still don’t. There’s something missing and there when I write, when we write. It’s there heavy at the bellies of our fingertips, in the arch of phalanges like faith, a belief in darling remnants or blue-black angels.
– Melanie Henderson