Friday, June 15, 2012
A MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW
The jukebox in my head has played over and over this week, MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW by the Charm City Devils. Heard it the first time on the return trip from Bass Pro Shop at Concord NC with Justin, listening to the Serious (or whatever it is) satellite radio riding up the interstate, the hard rock channel. It's not what I listen to for pleasure, though I do like it maybe more now than back when I only listened to rock. I've slowed down somewhat over the years of dealing with gravity 24/7 such that I resonate a bit better with somebody like Gaither Carlton playing a fiddle and Kyle Creed pickin a banjo, and banjo pickers from an E Kentucky 2cd set that I luv. Because old-time resonates better with my spirit in this time of my life, it doesn't mean I don't hear it when Five Finger Death Punch delivers the next thing in rock. There's no way around it, the 4hr round trip rocked. I liked hearing it quite a lot. It was a good review of what's happening now in that arm of rock. Mostly names of bands I'd never heard before. Korn is still making music, yet what I heard lacked much of the vitality of their earlier sound assaults; though how far can you go driving your audience through the back wall with a bass sledge hammer like driving a spike twenty feet long through oak. They played some Rage Against The Machine, a band from just before I dropped out. I don't listen to them much for pleasure, but when I hear them, it's in full appreciation. Tom Morello rules.
Haven't listened to current rock in a lot of years, like a couple decades. Bands like Garbage and Mazzy Star were some of the last bands I paid close attention to. Too much stuff started coming on. Too much to keep up with and a huge variety. It seemed to me like a new wave of Punk. Initially, punk was about making music the way you like to hear music. Anything went. Sex Pistols, the Damned and so on, set the standard for "punk" the hard-driving sound assault that it became. Which I liked then and still do. In the 90s, thereabouts, give or take a decade, every kind of thing started coming along, every kind of singing, every kind of music making. Punk again, this time closer to the original intent. It seems like a dynamic time in rock, but in this time of my life it's way too much and it's all youth-specific, which is ok by me, the best part about it; rock has a spontaneous vibration of heedless youth. Stories are told, feelings felt. Rock is a living music that changes every year, new people coming into it continually bringing fresh ideas and reaching for the next thing, the next sound yet to be heard.
Best of all, no matter if the parents grew up jamming in the front row at Rolling Stones concerts, the rock the kid listens to is guaranteed to make the parents say, "That's not music." Listening to Elvis in 1956 when he swept the world, my parents said, "That's not music. Glenn Miller is music." Many years later, an old hippie I knew who had grown up into a yuppie wannabe said to his teenage boy, in my presence, who was listening to Adam and the Ants, "That's not music. The Beatles are music." That knocked me on my ass. I couldn't help it, had to laugh out loud. "Did you hear what you said?" Of course he did. Of course he's right. That's not music. I went within a moment to remind myself that I will never get like that unto the day I die, even if I'm over a hundred with dementia for 20 years. It's why I went to a rock concert on my 60th birthday (Papa Roach) and 70th (Thrice), so I will never hear myself start a sentence, "The kids these days." In my late 50s, two sentences began with those words, catching my attention each time, not sounding right. After the 2nd time, I made a vow to myself it won't happen a third time. Going to the concerts is a reminder, as well as a celebration. It puts me in a world of the kids these days where I see they are just like the kids of my days or any other days. It's people being people and everybody is happy. Bump into somebody and it doesn't start a fight. I can swim among them as happily as among white-headed people at a Ralph Stanley concert, and enjoy both to the same degree.
I feel blessed in that way when I look around at my own generation. My generation is the 50s. In high school I saw Chuck Berry in concert Jr year and Sr year. I saw Chuck Berry's gold 1957 Cadillac with fins and venetian blinds in the back window in traffic downtown Wichita, Kansas, from the sidewalk as he drove by. The license tag said C BERRY. It was the Alan Freed Rock & Roll Show that lasted two years before he was taken out of the picture by the anti-rocknrollsquad. Saw Bill Haley & the Comets, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Ricky Nelson, Fats Domino during high school years. Elvis played in KC when I was 14, but it meant taking a bus into a part of the world I was not familiar with at all, downtown Kansas City at night, taking the bus back and walking a half mile from the bus to home. I wasn't brave enough at that age. It was the time of duck-tails and hoods with their collars sticking up; zip guns, motorcycle chains, switchblades, rumbles. I wasn't into that scene. It was Los Angeles and New York, but it was in KC too. Something like an Elvis concert would be a hood magnet. Just what I didn't need, to get my throat cut by a gang of high school dropouts in black leather jackets with zippers all over them, a teen crime statistic. A Dave Gardner comedy from the time: He had zippers up his sleeve and zippers on his back and a tattoo on his arm sayin Mammy You The Most. The comedy part was one thing, but on the street it was quite another for a kid, esp for a kid with no experience outside church and school.
Both Justin and I love the old song Man of Constant Sorrow, and we're running down the road hearing what we don't believe we're hearing. We looked at each other at the same time, his hand automatically went to the knob and cranked it up. It was a jam. I said farewell to old Kentucky, the place where I was borned and raised. Later, at the house talking about it, we checked the YouTube to see if we could find it. Neither of us remembered the name of the band. When he said Charm City Devils, I said, "I remember seeing Charm City. That's it." Sure enough, it was. I loved that they did it right. They did it just right. I was glad to see that great song translated into rock for the next generations. It doesn't get more traditional American music than Emory Arthur, Ralph Stanley, Bob Dylan and the Soggy Bottom Boys singing that song. It goes way back. I don't know if its origin is known. Probably is. Ralph Stanley owns it. It's his song and always will be. Even though this rock version does it right and makes a teen male anthem of it, they have not taken it away from Ralph Stanley.
Joe Cocker took She Came In Through The Bathroom Window away from the Beatles, but the Charm City Devils have not taken this song from Ralph Stanley. It's still his song; they just added their name to a list of very well done versions of that beautiful song nobody dares take on unless they can do it right. Fiddler Whit Sizemore sang it on one of his Shady Mountain Ramblers albums. It translates very well from genre to genre. It has universal meaning and speaks from the heart. I've looked at it every day on YouTube since hearing it first time. I like both the videos of it. One is a collage of flashing images from early black and white silent movies. Awfully good video. The other is a black and white of the band in a small space performing like on stage. For the band, this is the break they've been aching for. I'm happy for the band without knowing anything about them but their name. I'm grateful to them for doing it well, for doing it right. It seemed to my ear like they do the song with a nod of respect to Ralph Stanley. I don't know how to make it more clear than that. It's not something I can put my finger on, just a hint of a feeling. Last week I told Justin that Thrice concert ruint me. He said, Ruint you? I said, Now I want to hear everything full volume. I meant it. The concert and the drive with the satellite rock station woke up the dormant rocker within. I might put on some Marilyn Manson and let Caterpillar go outside for a while.