Posts Tagged ‘rhythm’

The Mockingbird?

March 9, 2013

Pat and I traveled yesterday afternoon, from our Blue Ridge mountain home in North Carolina, down to Georgia.

We are spending the weekend with our daughter, Katie.

This morning I wake up to the sound of a bird outside the apartment window. The call of the bird is different, not like the sounds of birds where we live. Here in Georgia, the advent of spring is rampant, compared to our snowy home environs which is several thousand feet higher in altitude and a degree or two of longitude more northerly on earth’s sphere.

Shortly after daylight peaked through Katie’s curtains, as I was laying on the floor to stretch my back and legs because I was not used to the soft bed, I heard the mockingbird somewhere outside.

At least I think it was a mockingbird. I can only surmise it was a mockingbird, because this little creature would not stick to one song, but kept changing his/her calls from one signal to another. So I’m laying there thinking, isn’t this what a mockingbird does? Is it not called a mockingbird because it “mocks” or imitates the songs of other birds?

This little aural adventure reminded me of my childhood at grandma Mimi’s house in Baton Rouge, some fifty-odd years ago. My sister and I would be laid into a guest room for an afternoon nap. This was unique because Mimi had, in that guest room, a fancy (she was of French heritage) four-poster bed with a white fabric canopy over its top, like you might see in movies about 18th-century royals or some such setting.

As I would be reclining on that luxurious bed, I could hear birds chirping on the other side of the curtained window. (The window treatment matched the poster-bed.) Mimi and J.C. had an outside courtyard with high brick walls around it and all sorts of Louisiana plants within–crepe myrtles, azaleas, camellias, canna lilies and gardenias and so forth–and a birdbath or two. So outside the window, the bird would maybe be sitting in the birdbath taking a bath and having fun in the water.

Be the bird as it may, in the birdbath or on the brick wall or perched on the leafy hedge or wherever it was casting its little hybrid songs, the feathery crooner was doing its yakkity thing, just being the birdbrained creature that God made him/her to be. I may have heard a mockingbird at that time and maybe that’s why I’m reminded of that childhood memory as I lay here now in Georgia in March 2013. But actually the bird call I remember most vividly from that nap time was not the mockingbird, but a blue jay.

I think it was a blue jay, anyway. The call was just a single shriek, like a “caw.” But it wasn’t a crow’s caw. It was not as loud that, and much kinder and gentler. Maybe that’s the call of the blue jay, or maybe it’s just the way I imagine a blue jay would sound, with his little bishopric peaky cap on his head and that big black beak sticking out like some kind of stuck-up sabre or something.

Anyway, back to the mockingbird, if that’s what it was, in Gainesville this morning. This bird, as I said earlier, did not stick to one call, but just kept whipping out a whole collection of different calls, one sample after another, like a moog gone au natural under the errantly genius touch of a four-year-old. Some were quick staccatos. . . ch ch ch ch, or some sustained legatos. . .wrr wrr wrr wrr wrr, or mixtures. . .ch ch wrr wrr wrr, or little buzzy blends. . .vzz vzz vzz vzz, or indecipherable birdbrain phonemes. . .brd oop brd oop brd ooo, or jazzy little themes. . .whoobidy shooop whoobidy shoop whoobidy shoop shoop shoop, with every now and then a dovish coo followed by a hawkish wra! wra!  I’ve got rhythm, was a part of the message, like Porgy or Gershwin or some other person of ancient Americana. A kind of poetry it was.

A bird with an identity crisis, I guess, is what it must have been, a little like the interpreter who was stretched out on the floor with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than harken to those first auditory signals of spring down hyeah in the deep south, y’heah me now?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

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Ich bin ein Americano

July 2, 2011

Classical music–the Eurocentric, orchestral kind, with Bach and Beethoven and so forth–had reached a dead end by the time the 20th century rolled around. The great masters had done their thing, had flung their genius tapestries of sound into the expanding universe of human culture. Bach and Vivaldi had long ago established a foundation of finely-tuned complexity and passionate virtuosity.Mozart and Beethoven then erected upon their base an intricate structure of technical perfection and artistic reverie.
In the 1800s, impressionists, Ravel and Chopin and others, flung the masters’ exquisite  orchestral constructs onto a canvas of blended colors and introspective wanderings among the forests of a disappearing natural world.
When the 20th century came roaring in with wheels of steel, endless hours of  numbingly repetitive work, and dark forebodings of mechanized war, the old impulses of harmony and order in music had been lost. Massively organized concerts of deathly destruction had ground themselves into a muddy halt on European battlefields. A bewildering wasteland of alienation was spread out upon what had been a world of high culture.
Orchestral musicians sank into an abyss of academic irrelevance and bizarre experimentation.
Then along came an African bound in merciless servitude to a sweaty cotton dock down in New Orleans, and that formerly-enslaved black man restored to the fallen world of Western music what it had lost: rhythm.
And the rest is history. Well, it all was, but…
That ole man rhythm shuffled his feet, walked up a worn-out gangplank onto a Mississippi riverboat queen where he wafted up to Memphis, planted a few cotton-eyed blues shoots. Then he churned on up to St.Louis where he laid down some soon-to-be-classic 12-bar roots, and then  beat out a trail on up to Chicago and got some uptown soul goin’on. By the time ole white on rice had laid his badself down and he be ready to do a little receivin’ from de black folk he done brought hisself clear on up to New Yawk where he stopped and did some serious orchestratin’ and western music was reborn in cradle of slavish trouble like nobody ever known in the history of the world.
And then came Gershwin.
Then the hopelessly stricken world of organized western music could get back on the boat in New Yawk harbor with some desperately needed pizzazz and a shine on his shoes, and transport his bad self around the world. And I told him dat.
And this is what I thought about when I heard, all on the same day, three awesomely talented clarinetists from totally different musical strains yesterday at the waterfront in Seattle.
1.) First there was Doreen Ketchens playing along with her tuba-totin’ hubby and (probably 9-year-old) daughter cuttin’ a shine on the drums while Doreen flung out that ole dixieland licorice stick magic right in the middle of all them white folk at Steinbrueck park overlooking Puget Sound. Doreen told me, while I was buying their CD, they had just arrived from New Orleans three days before.
2.) Then there was three talented fellers thumpin out a kind of retro ragtime klezmer thing goin’ on right in front of  the original Starbucks at Pike Place. They called themselves the Millionaires’ Club, and I laid down some jack for their CD too.
3.) Leaving the Pike Place tourist mecca area, back up on 1st Ave, was yet another clarinet virtuoso. He was doin the solo thing, a la Joni Mitchell’s For Free scenario, blowin’ out those groundbreakin’  clarinet strains from Gershwin’s soulful  Rhapsody in Blue.
Sorry I didn’t buy his CD, but I did come back here to our son’s place and start writing these thoughts.
And I remember thinking, in the midst of all that clarinetish genius in the middle of a gorgeous sunny Seattle day, and recalling the old Blood Sweat and Tears Tune, or maybe it was Chicago who sang that “I think it was the fourth of July” song about being in the park with all that native energy goin’ on and all them happy folks and ice cream cones and red white and blue what not, and I thought, for some reason, of President Kennedy telling the Germans back in ’61 that there is some help and some hope for a world that has fallen into destruction.
And he told those Germans that there was hope, and he said that when the world wants to get you donn,  that old bad honkin’ world should just come to Berlin “Let them come to Berlin…” said Kennedy to the Berlinners in 1961. Let them come and see how you’ve rebuilt yourselves in freedom that has overcome the ashes of tragic world war.
“Ich bin ein Berliner,” he told them, figuratively. I’m a Berliner. We’re all Berliners on this bus. We can all rebuild from the ashes of history. We can all overcome the sinful tragedy of an African bound to a cotton bale on the docks back in New Orleans back in the bad old days. And I thought…Let them come to America and see.
Ich bin ein Americano, and proud of it.

Glass half-Full