With their ingenious capacity to devour impregnable topography: vanishing points, roads, webbed lanes
Drivers bent like enamel: bolted bedevilled—chromium, glass and cross-ply—rolling abyss beyond sight
‘ . . . there was two lights—two lights—shining on behind, the blue light was my Blues, and the red light was my mind.’
The black and white keys were all that remained of the madcap melodies we made to rival Ravel’s Bolero
Yes—my parents’ parlour piano was there—but rampant luxury of lessons were never deemed feasible.
So I tinkled—far as childhood fingers spread—observing pirouetting patterns in the unsegregated array.
Some sort of configuration was there—but, for mere mind-moments—joy gone into confusion the next
The piano was sold—my father opined—no one played it: old—unnecessary—took up too much room.
But Blues blazed forth—one Summer day—perched as I was—in yellow lattice-branches of gnarled willow,
Grown in the grass bramble wilderness of a narrow track running the back of the odd-numbered houses.
Mr Love sat in his unruly garden. I roosted—shaded—where tremulous foliage met disorderly gentility.
Music played his gramophone—slow-aching, Delta acid-syrup slide—Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy.
“What is that music, if you please?” “Blues” he beamed as if from dark alluvial mud – slow in its swirling.
“From America – you maysn’t have heard it before.” I descended from the willow. He motioned me to sit.
Ragged orange blue and striped deckchairs—sun faded—delicate woodworm tracery in early 1900s frames.
Crackling 78s: Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Big Mamma Thornton – ice chinkling homemade gingerbeer
Sipped in long shadows of late afternoons—rolling and tumbling in naïve ambition—hidden from time.
I’d never heard such names or accents. “I want to sing like that!” I proclaimed in bright juvenile delight.
Hard times—love and friendship / crossed and lost—sung in grins; or scowls so deep they’d peel paint.
Blues falling down, Blues falling down like hail—and the day keeps on reminding me—there’s a hellhound on my trail.
Mr Love told me ’bout this genii—Papa Legba—who’d come to a particular crossroads and meet you –
Then you’d play the best guitar anywhere—willows shivered—He said it was a myth—but I knew better.
Had to be a deserted crossroads—in the country somewhere—and you had to go at midnight, all alone.
Robert Johnson went to the crossroads—somewhere Mississippi—and old Papa Legba tuned his guitar.
Then he played better than anyone alive – took that bottle neck soaring beyond the 12th and 14th frets.
That’s how it’d be. I’d sit—I’d wait—and then, that wild, weird, wayward banshee would do his thing.
But me I expected it to happen - I knew he’d lost control, when he built a fire on Main Street - and shot it full of holes.
No—he didn’t—but, 5 Woodsfield Lane was empty—for sale—and nobody was about to tell me anything.
“Where has Mr Love gone?” My father—stern. “It’s none of our concern.” But I persisted nonetheless,
“Has Mr Love died?” My father barking “That is not for you to know.” I asked my mother “Has he died?”
He’d gone where they’d care for him—there’d be no willow, only weeping—he could no longer live alone.
“Does he have his records where he’s gone – can he listen?” In that stiff silence, my mother couldn’t say.
Oh death: Early—one morning¬—he come a creeping in the room – and I know—Lordy, I know—my time ain’t long.
Adult life was furtive – an environment where embarrassment failed to explain any salient feature of life.
Mr Love—interred institutionalised incommunicado—lost in trackless wastes: dim disinfected corridors.
I’d never hear Blues again—far as I knew—so I sang whatever feisty fractured figments I could recall.
Fragments I’d not forget: diminished 7ths, blue notes, accidental minors in the major pentatonic scale.
Then—one monochromatic February—against radio gabble—my father’s words: “Mr Love is dead.”
Funeral already a week old and I hadn’t been there at the last: how bitter to know that at the age of 8.
He’d been so kind – and I wasn’t there for him at the end. Sad beyond endurance – I burst into tears.
I ran to the lane and remained there—skeletal—bereft of: willow leaves—crackling 78s—slow tidal Delta.
Months later we knew he died intestate—no letter ever arrived—no sound or sign of Legba’s celluloid.
“Who’d want a pile of old 78s?” I went to bed—stared at darkness, until—by default—I merged into it.
Death ain’t got no mercy on no one, by the time this song is sung—another friend has gone—death ain’t got no mercy on no one.