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NPR Interview: Deeper Detail

A fuller transcript because radio interview

Kurt Anderson: “Are you comfortable playing the blues?”

Playing the blues intimidates me. Almost more than any other musical expression. You can’t fake it, and unless you’ve lived it, you can’t be true – merely authentic. And I’d rather eat, say, “true” Soul food than “authentic” Soul food, any day. The blues, along with most African American art forms, is an expression of a secret history, one that I may only learn about and process from afar.

That said, I’ve been down, way down. I’ve been to dark dark places inside myself, too. But have I ever had the true blues? History and culture have not oppressed (or suppressed) me in my lifetime (though my Jewish ancestors, even into the mid 20th century, were not so lucky). Depression, though debilitating and oppressive in its own way, does not “the blues” make. This challenge hit me right in a discomfort zone, which on some level, made it a perfect challenge to wrestle. I tried to approach with fearlessness, to conjure the courage of someone suffering the blues, hopefully, then, speaking to, recalling and giving safe harbor to the suffering. No judgments here.

Kurt Anderson: “Tell us about your process and approach to this recording.”

In W.C. Handy’s narrative, no one is in a fixed place, whether physical (Easy Rider) or mental (Susan Johnson). That’s the darkness of “the blues,” that you are robbed of a place in space and time – robbed of roots.…


between stations (yellow dog blues) [disquiet0125-junto360blues]

Cover of W.C. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” bleeding in and out of an intro and outro drone of ambient guitars over a cascade of analog sounds: radio snippets, static and a quiet ending flurry of a reel-to-reel careening in reverse into a manual television changing channels.

A studio360 as well as a Disquiet Junto challenge. Marc Weidenbaum, who runs the Junto, told me this particular studio360 project seemed especially appropriate for our collective because “the blues was never fully about composition as an end, but about a rich community of shared source material.” The blues, like other forms of folk music, is a source of inspiration for the Creative Commons, and he felt like the Yellow Dog Blues project seemed a vehicle to make that connection.

For the challenge, we were given the original sheet music and told to do something with it. In W.C. Handy’s narrative, no one is in a fixed place, whether physical (Jockey Lee, aka Easy Rider) or mental (Susan Johnson). The story seems to try to reconcile the desire to stay put with the yearning to run and never look back. The talk of technology and communication in the song (cablegrams, telegrams, letters, trains…) sent me thinking about the wait-times between communications, and then the spaces, static and snow between radio stations and tv stations. And then, broader, thinking about the spaces between songs around the same narrative. After all, W.C. Handy was continuing a story started in another song, jumping into it at a different time and place.…


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