“Old & In The Way?”
This is a bit of a venting piece here I guess. I began my serious “research” work re: “African American” music ca. 1962 with record and performance reviews for BLUES UNLIMITED in the UK. My first attempt at interviewing a real musician for them took place in the autumn of 1964. As mentioned in the previous piece, my interview subject was B.B. King and what a lovely (and relatively easy) beginning it was for me. I have often described myself as the first White American journalist to interview him. Hyperbole? Maybe.* Since that time, I have continued to dig deeper into (and write about) all sorts of facets of the music, both in academically and popularly oriented journals, as well as a few pieces for pay (usually album liner notes)! Writing the previous piece on King also stimulated certain thoughts of “Here I am, having gone full-circle”, or “How ironic”!
Since my beginnings, I have been “working” with my peers in age and degree of interest, sharing our “discoveries” with each other, and I have built up a solid reputation within certain circles. Well, here I am in my seventy-fifth year and the lay of the land has changed drastically in many ways since that time. Many of my peers have already preceded myself into the great beyond, the folks in charge today have changed, and I am generally no longer dealing with people I tended to personally know, or those who personally knew of me. Many more degrees of separation result from these changes and I am no longer the “go to” guy for certain things. Not to mention the major changes in journalism that 21st Century technologies hath wrought! This happens in life. As a folklorist/ethnomusicologist/etc., I am no longer usually dealing with personal friends (who may have been cutting me some slack!) as time marches on. Additionally, active blues publications have been biting the dust right and left due to finances or the end of stamina, leaving me fewer and fewer outlets for my deadly** prose.
In all other realms, I am now more than six degrees of separation from editors as banners get passed to newer generations. The world of Folklore has continued on without my obvious presence and contributions since the eighties, and the powers-that-be have somehow gotten younger and less aware of my activities. Not very “folkloric” is it (?!). The few remaining blues publications are no longer driven as much by an innate curiosity and interest in the people and their music, but are driven by other, more “business-like” forces (deadlines, page numbers, university p.o.v., etc.). From my shaky beginnings (early-to-mid 1960s) to now, anything I produced was usually published without much comment, modification, or concern. This was because I was dealing with fellow aficionados who were always interested in what came next – a community, if you will. Now, a combination of “Who the hell is that guy?” or “How do we make a blivet*** out of all this?” The only constant in life is change, as I constantly reiterate (and the elderly often get lost by the wayside in that rush)! Have I outlived my life, then? Has it all come full-circle for me? I don’t know for sure, but it feels like that a lot these days.
But, I am generally acknowledged as a stubborn bastard and I am not aging gracefully at all… wouldn’t know how! So I continue to write, even if my only outlet is here in this sainted “blog”**** – SOMEone out there will read it for me, won’t you?? Pax vobiscum, baby!! And may the farce be with you all… it’s our only hope.
PETER B. LOWRY
Sydney, July 2015
* Of those scribbling Caucasians covering B at that time that I am aware of, Charles Keil was/is an academic (see his book URBAN BLUES from 1966), while Stanley Dance was a Brit writing for Jazz Journal (UK) at that time and becoming Duke Ellington’s amanuensis.
** In Aboriginal Australian vernacular English, “deadly” is a good and positively powerful descriptive!
*** Putting ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag = one blivet.
**** My son points out that the term sounds like an excretory act/function (or a “Dragon Ball Z” sound effect!), which may not be too far off the mark!! Really!!!
In the previous piece on B, I make mention of the probable waves of cover stories to come with guitar-oriented magazine since his passing. That hasn’t been the case so far as I have seen. Granted, journals are sorted out with plenty of lead-time and usually are dated well ahead of their release. I’ve discussed this lack with a number of locals, but of course, it takes way longer for such publications to get to Australia! Well, beaten the duck with the August 2015 issue of Guitar World. Most of those covered in this mag are shredding types who tend to turn their amp up to 11, yet they do right by B and have a beautiful cover photograph to boot. A couple of small factual errors (which I will, of course, correct for them!), it does well by their subject – thanks, folks!
It is odd to realize that I (and some other White guys) am among the elders these days, and are dying off, just like the subjects of our “research”. This is brought on by the recent demise of Don Kent – he lived in Western North Carolina, and died in a Spartanburg, SC hospital of cancer… probably the biggest hospital to his home. He won’t be the only one and isn’t really the first one, but, “Vale”, Don.
added: Aug ’15