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Keep yo han's off my Blues
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3 posts
Jan 02, 2013
3:47 AM
Greetings Adam,

I really enjoyed the introduction to your MOOC. You're always a joy to listen to. Your teaching and thinking styles are much like my own so perhaps I'm biased. I'm writing to tell you of my personal blues paradox. I'm a white Jewish guy who emotionally sides with Roland L. Freeman but strongly supports the spread and evolution of Blues.

I grew up in Chicago, lived on the south side, in the 1950s and 1960s. My family and culture was oppressively proper and placed a great deal of importance on manners. But the reasons for the importance were not even implicit. The emotional environment was utterly stifling. Most interactions in and outside of the family were ritualistic but divorced from their origins. Another important point about my upbringing is I went to a racially and internationally mixed high school and knew experientially that racism had no rational basis.

When I was 16 I went to work for the summer with a black guy who had worked for dad 20 years earlier. He was a sheet metal mechanic (probably a master but this was Richard J. Daley's Chicago and the unions didn't allow black people). I was his laborer. My dad asked him to look out for me but he did way more than that. He began my education.

Aside from sheet metal Herman taught me how to look busy, how and when to approach a boss, how to get an adult to buy me booze and not get ripped off, hangover cures, when a woman is interested even though she's talking mean to you, when you have no choice but to fight and when you can walk away. He even told me why my father was a good guy for a white man. But most of all, after work he took me to hear music. I went places with Herman that I couldn't go even today. He was respected, fast-witted and big, the short of it is that he was not a man to trifle with, and I was his ward. Herman primed the pump of my coming of age. He gave me explanations and experiential learning my blood father couldn't. A black man of strength and wit taught me to navigate the world.

The blues talked openly about all of the things I got smacked at home for even asking about. Blues sounds and rhythms moved me inside and out. They were the non-verbal expressions of so much of what I felt. Human interactions and relationships in both cultures were just as complex but in the world of the Blues I had a translator and teacher, Herman.

A few years later I had quit college and moved back to Chicago. I liked working with my hands and head but Jews weren't allowed in the trade unions any more than blacks were and the business world didn't want free-thinkers. I ended up working with my back a lot. And that meant I worked with a lot of black people. I felt marginalized but not to the same degree of course. All I needed was a different set of clothes and a haircut and I could pass.

Today I hear the perceptions of younger people about the Blues and I'm astonished and offended by their ignorance and the way they haven't even scratched the surface of the music. Mention Strange Fruit and you're likely to get a blank stare. I'm also saddened that they can listen to the Blues and hold still. Anyway, my internal response is "Hey, have some respect. Read some history. It means way more than you know. And you need to know for all our sakes." Partly this is due to being an old guy now. But there's a huge difference between the history you learn about and the history you lived.

Ownership of culture is exceedingly interesting and important. Thank you for discussing it and please keep it coming.
41 posts
Jan 02, 2013
8:15 PM
I was enthralled by your brief history. I felt like you got the truth more so about the subject than the first lecture. Thank you for your contribution.

Train train
4 posts
Jan 02, 2013
8:32 PM
Thank you Train, train. It's just two different vantage points. One is macroscopic and the other microscopic. I was speaking as a consumer. Adam was speaking as a player and a scholar.
2 posts
Jan 03, 2013
8:28 PM
Great stuff Spoonful thank you for sharing that
9 posts
Jan 04, 2013
6:49 AM
Spoon, nice story.

My intro to blues came from my mother, who gave me my first harp when I was a (bored) college freshman. Mom played piano and directed a baptist church choir. She helped me understand call and response. As a kid I grew up listening to mom's favorite music, which included jazz, ragtime and blues.
47 posts
Jan 05, 2013
1:29 PM
Hey, Spoon, you should consider writing a novel (or at least a short story) based on your experiences with Herman (not just because it is a good story, but because you write well, too). I think it could make a great movie! I'd go see it!
7 posts
Jan 05, 2013
2:44 PM
I hadn't thought about Herman for at least 30 years until I watched Adam's first lecture. So a novel in that setting never occurred to me.

I do have one I've been working on when not busy with other stuff. Eight years and I have an outline and the first chapter. Deleted a lot of first chapters. Anyway, the sound track of that one would be Norteno music. Another musical tradition with multiple ownership.

What's happened to the Blues has happened to many forms of music. Another favorite of mine is Flamenco which for a couple of hundred years has been strongly influenced by the Gypsy, Jewish, Moroccan and Spanish cultures. Today it's played and loved all over the world. European classical music has found a large audience in Asia. Anything taken up by a second culture can't not be influenced by theat second cultures aesthetics.
24 posts
Jan 09, 2013
2:35 PM
Great story Spoonful. I'm sure there are a lot of chapters to be written in your book of Herman.

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