THE WOUNDS STILL BLEED…(Why I Still Need Rock and Roll: Session #14)

My town’s local R&B station features America’s greatest dee-jay, Joe Bullard. That’s 96.1 Jamz in Tallahassee, FL, in case anyone ever wants to check him out.

Days like today he’s part minister, though, even on a day like today, I’ve never once heard him preach. He let’s the subtlest shift of tone in his usual patter do some of the work.

He let’s the music do the rest.

So, driving around doing errands this morning, the first piece of music I heard after I heard the news from Charleston was from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

Bear in mind there was a time when Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed and others crossed over to the American Pop Charts. Then hear me when I say this is the deepest blues singing to ever crease those charts, however briefly.

Triple deep in fact because it’s a collective.

The wordless, knife-in-the-heart falsetto is by Lloyd Parks, the long monologue by Melvin himself.

The lead is Teddy Pendergrass, about whom I had this to say a little while back.

And, here as there, it’s not the words (which are about something else entirely). It’s not even the music.

It’s the sound. The sound of mourning and, today, there was no sound to match it. Certainly not the babble coming from talk and news stations. It made a difference.

But you do have to wonder how long we can go on healing and patching before we bleed out.


SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN AMERICA…(Why I Need Rock and Roll Session #8)

I try–not always successfully–to avoid topical politics here. I do sometimes hint at a philosophy of sorts. If I were to do more than hint, I would simply list the Bill of Rights complete and print I BELIEVE IN ALL TEN! underneath.

Take that as you will and I’ll keep any deep thoughts I might have about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case to myself.

But I will admit that, via radio, television and internet, I monitored the various reactions around the country today with more than casual interest.

The best response by far was on the local R&B station.

I’ve mentioned here before that Joe Bullard has a fair claim to being the best dee-jay in America and his Sunday afternoon show emphasizes requests and classic soul. I only make this assertion because I can’t imagine anybody being better.

Today, he started playing James Brown at one point. And then he just kept on playing him. For forty-five minutes straight. “The Big Payback,” “Hot Pants” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “Sex Machine,” and, yeah, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).” One classic after another. There was no stoppage for birthday shout-outs or community service announcements or local advertisements or weather reports. Bullard just rapped them over the instrumental breaks and eased in and out of them by trading call and response choruses with James himself.

And neither Brown nor Bullard ever said a truly topical word concerning the hallucinatory mixture of tragedy and absurdism that White America keeps finding a thousand ways to visit on Black America fifty years after Jim Crow supposedly passed on.

This particular Sunday afternoon, neither Brown nor Bullard needed to. Would have been superfluous anyway. The only thing that was required today–the only message that was absolutely necessary–was yet another reminder that tragedy and absurdism aren’t the only inevitabilities.

As long as James Brown has some piece of the air, Bullard seemed to be saying–all the more powerfully for leaving it between the lines–there will always be something better to keep them company.

Next to that, the endless reams of political “commentary” meant far, far less than nothing.


SEGUE OF THE DAY (8/30/12)

Joe Bullard/The O’Jays

The O’Jays (“Stairway to Heaven”–studio)

Errand day.

I got in the car and the station that now specializes in playing things rarely heard on the radio in their day kicked off the mid-morning drive to town with “Tonight’s the Night,” Neil Young’s hole-in-the-sun tribute to Jan Berry’s overdosed roadie brother (Berry was the creative half of Jan and Dean until he paralyzed himself in a car smash-up near enough to the real life “Dean Man’s Curve” for legend-building purposes). Then they backed it up with Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” one of his own hole-in-the-sun specials which Linda Ronstadt happened to cover in her I-radiate-so-much-sex-I-don’t-have-to-bother-with-changing-gender-specific-lyrics-unless-I-maybe-feel-like-it phase–a phase which freaked Costello so thoroughly he has been dancing around his objections to her existence ever since (not least, I imagine, because he also admits the massive royalties he received from her covers “gave me the freedom not to have to conform to any record company pressures”–a freedom he used to make the albums his reputation has rested on ever since. He eventually satisfied his habitual Cotton Mather impulse by donating some of the royalties to the African National Congress after Ronstadt defied the ban on playing South Africa and refused to explain herself.)

I really thought that would be something I could work with.

Then a commercial came on and I switched over to the R&B station where Joe Bullard–the local answer to why God made dee-jays–was preaching an uplift sermon, admonishing his listeners to take the time to read the four New Testament gospels between now and the end of the year. Somewhere along the way, the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” (Gamble and Huff’s, not Plant and Page’s) started playing underneath and when the gentle sermon finished, the O’Jays stepped in on cue.

Left the holes in the sun a long, long way behind.