Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Hardest Part

In our readings in the book of Langston, we're finding some basic patterns (blue light, red light): the brovah's a multimedia artist, not just a literary figure; his attachment to the modernist narrative is less of his own making and made more of the wishes of his more literary readers who want to habilitate him into a more literary form; his understanding of the visual and musical arts is very much his own, and not one that anticipates our present understandings; and then there's the whole trope of simplicity.

Up 'til now our work has mainly focused on the multimedia artist and his fascinating career-long effort to be a songwriter and a director of musical theatre/opera.  We're gonna keep working this (even while we begin to spread out a little).

But at the center of his work is the remarkable poem cycle, performance script, book as artifact, enactment of the dozens, commentary on music, &c., Ask Your Mama.  We've been running up to this work slowly because it would be so easy to get less out of it than we could (many already do that routinely).

For today, let's just note that he placed at its center the most important of musical references: W. C. Handy's "Hestitation Blues."  We've begun to pull together the versionology of this masterwork and will begin posting appropriately in the near future.  Here let's note scribble up three fast note:

1) There is something about Handy and American modernism that we want to pursue.  He's his own book.  He's a gigantic ancestor.

2) This is one of those songs that has been reworked so many times that it has become a fabric of its own.  We have so much more to learn of these songs.

3) Langston uses the song to compose up a conjuring way in Ask Your Mama that is both obvious and can be studied forever.

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