Ok, I haven’t updated in a week. I’ve been sick with some kind of cold or flu since last Thursday. I worked from home for a while yesterday… but I am otherwise sounding very hoarse and camping out all day on the sofa.
I’ve had the chance to see some very interesting new television and revisit an old favorite on DVD. In part on teranika’s recommendation, I have been watching Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. The documentary stirs up two rather contradictory thoughts in me:
Seeing both Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie play folk songs with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee — two artists I otherwise think of as part of the acoustic blues genre — reminds me of the fundamental interconnected-ness of the American rural song. Blues, bluegrass, and folk are really parallel streams that weave around and mingle with each other… in ways that a record store “genre” label can never adequately describe. Such labels and categories have more to do with ideas of race and class than what the musicians actually play.
The other thing I think of is the nature of the folk song voice itself. My parents enjoyed a certain flirtation with the folk revival in the late 50’s and early 60’s (of which Pete Seeger was the father). My Mom has some of the Kingston Trio LPs and some of the early work of Joan Baez in her collection. Yet for them, folk music always was about the pure, ringing voice. They don’t get why Bob Dylan is great… but I finally do, after hearing a lot of hearing a number of grating blues singers like Mississippi Fred McDowell and (to a lesser degree) Son House.
Whenever I get sick, I get out the DVDs (or VHS tapes) of parts of Ken Burns’ American Trilogy. This week, I’ve been watching Jazz. I find it fascinating to watch the series once every year or two, to see how my expanding knowledge of jazz informs my reaction to the series. The series was my original introduction to the history of jazz, and was responsible for me taking my first real look (and real liking) to the “bebop” and “hard bop” jazz of the 1940’s and 50’s. Now I see more and more how Mr Burns’ needs as a storyteller caused him to make certain choices about what to cover and who to emphasize. The series is a documentary, yes, but also an oral history of sorts… with certain more colorful characters included, and other more bland personalities excluded.
Finally, illness and cold medication has made for some interesting moments during the last few years. I awoke at 3:12am this morning after suddenly dreaming that the smoke detector in our room went off. That prompted me to get up and take another shot of Nyquil, and then spend 30 minutes listening for any odd sounds in the house. For a while, I thought I heard a sort of low hum in our room that had me concerned for a while. My ears also rang a bit. The ringing, the hum, and the smoke alarm may have been a hallucination induced by low grade fever, cold medecine, or both.