You Can Sing the Blues

I read once, on Guy Davis’s website, that white people can’t sing the blues. In fact, Davis’s web site article seemed almost downright mad that white people would even think about singing a song in a genre exclusive to Black America.

Sorry, Guy… but that ain’t right. Anyone can sing and play the blues; it doesn’t matter whether you’re pink, green, orange or purple. All you need to be is human. Put an 8-bar or 12-bar pattern together with three chords, throw in a few (or a lot of) wrong notes, and sing like you mean it.

All you gotta do is wake up in the morning and look around for your shoes, or go down to the crossroads, or find out that something you never thought you’d lose is gone. If you’ve ever walked along the railroad track, tried to find your way back home, or made your way to the middle of nowhere… you can sing the blues.

If your best friend done stole your partner, or your partner done found another… you can sing the blues.

If you once had money and now you don’t and all your friends took off ’cause now you’re broke… you can sing the blues.

You can definitely sing the blues if:
• You’re fixin’ to die
• You shot a man in Reno
• You stabbed a man in Memphis
• You’ve been in jail
• Your best friend is the bottom of a bottle
• You thought you had it made but now you don’t
• Even your mama don’t remember your name

I’ve also read that teenagers can’t sing the blues, ’cause they ain’t “fixin’ t’ die,” and because they ain’t older than dirt.

Baloney. Anybody can sing the blues.

Ever been sent to the principal’s office? Ever had someone turn you down when you asked them to a dance? Ever found yourself on the playground feelin’ so lonesome you didn’t know what to do? Ever woke up in the morning and felt that things were just gettin’ ready to go wrong?

Anybody and everybody can sing the blues. We all start singing them on the day we’re born.

Realistically, though… there are some rules. You shouldn’t be singing the blues if:
• Your name is Brittany, Tiffany, or Moonbeam
• You drive a new BMW, HumVee, or an Audi
• You never shop at the Dollar Store
• You have a membership to the golf course next door

As long as you don’t have any blatant “out-of-context” qualities, you can sing and play the blues. Just get a guitar, or a harmonica, or just sing with a moanin’ in your heart.

That’s the Blues.

The World That Was

Think for just a moment… or for even a moment after that first moment. What happened in 2020? Two things made news: the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump with his Republican Party cohorts. That’s all that made the news. But think; what else?

So much more happened which we can barely fathom, but which never made front page. We heard about a few other things, but not being boisterously apparent like Trump, or as deadly as COVID, we probably passed aside those other things that made only the back pages of the newspapers.

The press reported the total number of deaths effected by the virus, but did not publish the names of the 300,000 people who, with their deaths, left at least double that many people grieving and wondering how they would manage to fend for themselves in a world gone haywire. How many of those people were mothers or fathers to multiple children, were aunts or uncles to a multitude more. The unknown number of affected people tears at the heart.

That is news.

In your lifetime, certainly not in what remains of my lifetime, Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado will never display the beauty of their once magnificent forests. The parts of each of those states that we most enjoyed are gone: beautiful lakes stipped clean of the trees which once stood watch among their shores are gone, trees which, if sturdy enough, stand only as charred sticks in the brittle ground that may wash away in the floods which will come with the spring thaws.

How many notable deaths――scientists, musicians, literates, conservationists, proponents of human equality? The list seems longer than those of the previous five years:

• Mario Molina―received the Nobel Prize for his work on the effect of CFCs on the Earth’s ozone.
• Julian Bream―master of the classic guitar.
• Eva Szekley―survived the Holocaust to win the gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke in the 1952 Olympics.
• Arthur Ashkin―invented the “Tractor Beam.”
• Debra White Plumne―defender of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.
• Barry Lopez―naturalist and conservatiuonist writer…
… and the list goes on: Bill Withers, Terry Gilliam, David N. Dinkins, Priscilla Jane, George Bizos, Charlie Pride… .

How many of us know these names? How many of us understand the significance of these names. They were reported, but only as an afterthought of political spewing and the virus that hacks at the guts of the American Dream――chops away the dreams of so many people on this planet.

But what is it that holds us all together, as one people, stuck on a rock circling a star that glimmers in a universe so infinite that time does not know we exist, never needed a reason to care that we inhabit a mote that has never made the news?

My hope is that the “lockdowns” of COVID have given us enough time for introspection, a study of ourselves that reveals each of us is a part of larger whole that seeks to survive amidst the turmoil we inflict upon ourselves.

Personal Accountability

Trump is whole-handedly responsible for the insurrection January 6, 2021. He is also responsible for the five deaths that occured during the incursion. With his particular phrasing, the worst POTUS in American history purposefully incited violence and “wild action,” and kindled that violence over the course of months. Just as troublesome is that Trump could not have incited anything had he no followers. Thousands of people stormed the United States Capitol and took control of it for several hours. Would they have amassed in what many of them called “revolution” without someone giving them cause, on a specific date, at a specific place, for a very specific reason vocalized by Trump since his failed re-election in November?

Probably not, especially after knowing how the police handled the riots in Portland, Oregon (tear gas, baton beatings and rubber bullets in the eyes).

The ruction at the U.S. Capitol, however, was brewed over the entirety of Trump’s four-year term, his bombastic lies empowered by a political party that refused to uphold its duty to defend truth and the U.S. Constitution throughout his tenure.

The showdown January 6 was bound to happen, because the Republican Congress pushed it that direction. Had our Republican senators and House representatives not willingly acquiesced Trump’s ineptitude in the highest position in the United States, had they not aided him in perpetuating obvious and dangerous lies, and had they stepped up to the plate like Vice President Mike Pence to act contrary to the wishes of their “savior”――to uphold the United States Constitution and American Rule-of-Law――Trump’s ability to “enlist” thousands of people to his personal cause could not have happened.

Trump did lie throughout his calamitous term in the White House; his false claims were exposed day-after-day by reported fact-checks across the country. Statements he made claiming the 2020 election was rigged were determined by more than a handful of U.S. justices to “have no basis in fact and law.”

Still, people followed him, and continue to follow him.

Trump led the charge to “Make America Great Again” during his presidential campaign in 2016. It is ironic that upon his exit Russia laughs and points fingers at us, claims we are now an example of how democracy crumbles. Iran now calls us “fragile and vulnerable.” China touts itself as more safe than the United States. So many other countries have expressed pity for our plight.

Such statements and sentiments are not how other countries refer to “great” countries.

The United States has fallen from its high global perch because so many people allowed themselves to believe Trump’s lies, and too many still perpetuate his latest last-ditch fabrication.

Unfortunately, even after life-threatening sedition at the Capitol, one hundred fourty-seven congressmen still upheld Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, though the United States Supreme court decreed this was not true.

In Colorado, all nine of its congressmen admonished the January 6 attack on the Capitol, yet two of the State’s House Representatives――Rep. Doug Lamborn and Rep. Lauren Boebert――voted to sustain Trump’s assertion of voter fraud and electoral miscounting. Such equivocalness makes no sense; a person cannot condemn that which she or he helped perpetuate.

But that is the state of my country: divided by too many in positions of authority who persist without factual foundation to ignore truth, justice, and the American way.

Personal Cleansing

It is said fire purifies, and for that my wife and I perform a ritual every New Year’s. We write all the things we want to forget of the previous year on strips of paper and burn them. This year, when we stepped into the frigid cold one second after midnight, my wife held a toilet paper tube crammed with thin stips of denunciations. My tube looked identical.

We stood oblivious to the weather and joined in the cacophany of our neighbors as we all whistled and cheered and yelled obscenities about the previous two hundred ninety-one days. Every few seconds small fireworks blossomed overhead, rekindled our shouts and catcalls, and though all of us appeared as only shadows beneath the streetlights or remained unseen in the darkness of our own yards, we howled united in a common cause–death to the Year of COVID.

I lit a small fire in a small portable barbecue grill. My wife laid her tube in the flames. I laid mine beside hers. We watched the tubes turn to ash, as if the rising smoke could wisp away all we had burned.

Against our better judgment, we stayed up two more hours, hoped the next time we opened the front door the world would be different, like Dorothy stepping into the color world of Oz. My wife and I knew better, but still we hoped.

It is said fire purifies; this year it cannot. Like so many others in the world, my wife and I carry too many unhealed wounds from last year: the loss of her dream, a yoga studio that celebrated its second anniversary only days before California issued “Shelter in Place” directives; leaving thirty years of our lives behind in a move from the West Coast back to the Colorado Rockies; the passing of a dearest friend, and the passing of the cutest little fella we’ve ever rescued from the SPCA…

… and the devastating fires in the western United States, and all over the world; the shooting of innocent people by policemen; the political destructiveness of a madman in the White House and the misguided elected officials who furthered (and for another two weeks will continue to further) his dastard, narcissistic plans…

… and the pandemic which killed nearly two million people, forced too many people into unemployment, has closed so many of the businesses that supported so many people, and which will persist in shutting down so many more as it continues its wave of global depredation into this new year.

The fire did not erase all my wife and I hoped to forget. We knew that as we stepped out beneath a clear blue sky New Year’s day and crunched through snow toward the path which follows alongside the Cache la Poudre River, one of only fourteen wild rivers remaining in the United States. Years ago the river was sacred to us, and once again has become another of our rituals, our stream of hope for the future that flows from the majestic Rockies.

After a thirty-year absence from Fort Collins–the home of our college alma maters, the town where met, and the birthplace of our daughter–we have returned full-circle to start fresh.

Something inside me says the mountains and the waters of our past will cleanse us. Maybe 2021 will be better than last year.

Coming Upon Winter

The green of summer is gone, the reds and yellows of autumn faded. All that remains above the Poudre River are brittle brown leaves that await their final fall into the flow. Seventeen inches of snow fell one week ago, but the only the bones of the storm remain in gray piles along the roadside, like roadkill wanting to disappear.

‘Tis the season of change――in the air, on the ground, in our lives.

In Colorado, Hell erupted to the surface of the Earth in more ways than several. The entire West is burned to char, and still burns. Violence among people still boils over the rim of the “melting pot,” and the POTUS proliferates violence and ideas of civil war.

Guns in public, aimed at the buses of a presidential candidate opposed to the maniacal, insane antics coming from our “sanctified”: White House.
Who could have imagined that, one hundred fifty-five years after the War Between the States, the modern United States would relive one of the worst catastrophes in its history, a catastrophe indicative of Hitler’s rise, Mussilini’s rise, Kaddahfi’s rise… .

Rome burned and lost its foothold on the world because of Nero’s insanity. My hope is that history can repeat itself so many times before people wake up.

My wife and I rode our bikes alongside the Poudre this afternoon, and at the bridge just before the intersection leading into Old Town Fort Collins we heard a steel tongue drum, beautiful and so much attuned to the slow rythym of the river. I stopped on the bridge to listen, and to watch the fella who sat beneath gray trees and played the music. I stood longer, bowed my appreciation to the player as he bowed his appreciation that I listened. He restarted the melodic enchantment for my enjoyment. At the end, I waved good-bye. He waved good-bye. No sound; only the music.
It could have been an eternity. Maybe just a few minutes. He shared his music, I shared my enjoyment, and together, in silence, we shared our appreciation of one another.

I can only hope the U.S. election a week ago brings our country closer to an appreciation of one another, more appreciation of itself, and more appreciation of other countries.

Inferno

Dante wrote his famous epic poem, Inferno, in the early 1300's. It tells the story of the narrator (Dante) on a journey through nine concentric circles (worlds) which comprise Hell. The poem begins in March. Dante steps through the gate of Hell, over which is inscribed "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Immediately upon passing through the Gate of Hell, Dante recognizes a man of considerable political power whose selfish thirst for his own welfare serves as the metaphor for the door through which too many have entered into delusional salvation. For the next 190 pages or so, all hell breaks loose.

The poem is religious, but times, attitudes, beliefs, perspectives, and scientific revelations change. What a great plot for a modern story.

Oh wait. It's not a story. It's happening right now, seven hundred years after the original version, and because after so many centuries the poem is no longer protected by copywrite, my version of Inferno differs.

My main character could be any man, woman or child who walks out their front door, and who discovers their once-familiar portal to the outside world is now the gateway to Hell, in all its flame and fury.

The Inferno is here. Pick a calamity, any of which is a massive story by itself:

1) An inland hurricane in Iowa, which destroyed 43% of the state's corn and soybean crops.

2) Tornadoes in Massachusetts, not unheard of, yet rare.

3) Fires in California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado which have scorched the West to ash and cinder.

4) Unconstitutional civic behavior and violence condoned by the White House.

5) Racist murders on our city streets and within our homes, justified by the White House under a mandate of "law and order."

6) Corruption and international meddling in the upcoming election.

7) Social media so loaded with lies and altered photographs one cannot decipher what is or is not true.

8) A dangerous person in the White House, and too many misguided souls who want to extend his residency.

9) COVID-19.

... and now an additional level: 10) the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

My story begins in March, just like Dante's tale, yet this updated Inferno is not a story I can write. This series of unfortunate events writes itself daily, sometimes hourly, and each new plot twist becomes so surreal I could never conceive such madness; this story reaches beyond my understanding and creativity. Even if I could, my writing is dark; the ending would be extremely bleak...

... and I don' want this new Inferno to end that way.

Ignorance

The profoundness of ignorance becomes a devastating tsunami when we look around — to the front, to the sides, then over our shoulders — and realize without having to think about it we did not know. Ignorance pervades, because, after looking around, we do not recognize where we are and have no clear recollection of how we arrived. It is our own fault for always moving. We know that, we admit that (“back in the good old days”), then we “keep on truckin’.’

Yet along the Oregon coast, islands of rock, so steadfast in their defiance of the never-ending surge of a rough sea, have stood against the loneliness of midnight for more ages than man has memory. Still, we cannot sit still in one place for more than a passing thought. Each new idea that seeps into our collective consciousness, or that strikes us like a bolt from a heavy sky, sets us again in motion, embarks us once again upon our mortal pilgrimage toward unknown destinations we hope will ease our loneliness, or will be spectacular enough to ease our pain.

How long has it been since humanity stopped to hear the song of the trees? There was a time when the people of the land understood the language of the forests and of the brooks.

It was common — long ago — to walk through the forest and experience things that can never happen again, or to see things that will remain eternally hidden, and for which we cannot piece together a rough recollection. Some things about the forest could never happen, though we were there and saw it, because we stood motionless in awe and wonder.

But we no longer sit to breathe, we try to authenticate our existence only with movement — leaps and bounds — which we justify as progress. Still, we ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Old to New

Then none were for the party,
Then all were for the State,
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned,
Then spoils were fairly sold… .
――Thomas McCauley, “Horatius”

At a point in time a homeowner decides a certain room or other living space no longer suits the needs of the day, and contacts my boss and his wife. They all congregate to devise a new plan: an updated kitchen, a finished basement, a bathroom that, since the original construction of the house, has never quite been as easily accessible as it could be. A style is chosen, plans are drawn, colors are picked… and then it’s showtime.

My boss and I walk cocked and loaded into the particular living space we’re contracted to remodel. We rip away the walls, leaving only the bare bones of framing. If necessary, we tear up the flooring and lay down a new subfloor for whatever change is to come. We use crowbars, hammers, electric saws, drills, the heels of our boots… whatever it takes to empty the space to its essential, original nakedness. Sometime we eliminate entire walls. It’s laborious work; lots of sweat and a couple of “owies” are always involved. When our demolition is complete, it’s showtime.

Updated electrical systems have been installed, plumbing may or may not be rerouted, a new floor is laid, new cabinets are hung, a stove and range may have been relocated from a dark corner against a wall to an open island we built between the cooking and dining areas, and all appliances are updated. When we’re finished, the place looks like a brand new house.

The biggest deal: the remodel functions better than what the homeowner lived in previously.

The House, the Senate… good gosh the entire country: Democracy in the United States is dead. We need a constitution not written by candlelight. The Bill of Rights has been ignored since the day it was ratified (1791). Three branches of government to “ensure” checks and balances so a dictatorship could not raise its evil head above the banner of democracy――lately that doesn’t seem to be working as planned. In plain sight, mailboxes are being removed so the current government can remove our basic right to vote. Racisim runs rampid in murderous numbers.

Just my opinion, but I think it’s time for a complete remodel of the United States, because the house in which we now live no longer suits the needs of the day.

――Alfred Lord Tennyson,
“The Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur.”

Time to Replant the Garden