Monday, January 21, 2008

Ipoding and Memories of Mox Stark

Somebody gave me an Ipod, one of the small ones, about six months ago, and the gizmo has won me over.

I went through almost all of our CDs and skimmed off the cream, although in some cases I've loaded on whole albums. I've purchased some songs from the Ipod store, too. But it's taken me all this time to get up to 338 "songs"; some of these are recorded poems, most from a Harlem Renaissance collection on which Ice-T reads "If We Must Die" and Quincy Jones reads, "I've Known Rivers, and on which are some great recordings of blues and jazz from the 1920s. My son probably filled up his first Ipod in a week.

My list is dominated by jazz, blues, and rhythm & blues. There's some rock & roll, a handful of pop songs, some gospel, and some classical. My selections in the latter category are frightfully predictable, I fear: mostly Chopin, Bach, and Mozart. The jazz is old school: Ellington, Hawkins, Coltrane, Davis, Brubeck, Tatum, for example.

I have a few selected tunes by Elvis, and one album by Sinatra--with Count Basie at the Sands, recorded live in the mid-sixties. I like his voice from that period, and Basie's band swings with a harder edge than Nelson Riddle's orchestra. Before an instrumental interlude in "I've Got You Under My Skin," Sinatra warns the audience: "Run and hide. Run for cover." Actually, he says, " Run fuh covah," with some New Jersey mustard.

There are lots of odds and ends, including Edwin Starr's song, "War," and "18 With a Bullet," which was revived by "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels." I also have Son House's version of the old slave song, "John the Revelator." The song and his performance transfix me every time. Pure delta blues.

There's a bit of country, but it's mostly Johnny Cash, old and young (Sun Records and Rick Rubin). Astonishingly, I have no Beatles and no Stones. However, I included a whole album by Hank Penny, known as the master of country be-bop. His music mixes country, country swing, and jazz, and he has a sense of humor, to say close to the least, so some of the songs come close to novelty, but he played with some terrific musicians. The band includes a clarinet and an accordion, as well as a fiddle. I first heard his "Bloodshot Eyes" on a 78 rpm my father played. The lyrics are gritty, poetic, and hilarious. They include the following:

Don't expect me to dress you up in satin and in silk.
Your eyes look like two cherries in a glass of buttermilk.

When I heard those lines at age 7 or 8, I absolutely adored the image conveyed by the simile, which still seems perfect to me.

More lines:

Your eyes look like a road map, and I'm afraid to smell your breath.
You better shut your peepers before you bleed to death.

And

It seems our little romance has finally simmered down.
You ought to join the circus. You'd make a real good clown.

My dad liked this song and Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," because, I suspect, they struck him as authentic--and they sounded new. His good friend Mox Stark--a hard man--had done time for shooting a man. The man had shot at him first, but Mox got sent up for manslaughter nonetheless. Apparently Mox came to see the guy about money, got up to the door, and was shot at. Mox walked to his car, got his gun, came back to the house, and killed the guy--not just "to watch him die," certainly, but nonetheless: cold and hard. He probably could have driven away, but he made a different choice--and went to prison for several years. Mox visited us once every summer, unannounced. For some reason, he really liked my dad.

Mox had a strong sense of justice. Once he told me that he'd worked on a big dam--it might have been Hoover Dam or Grand Coulee Dam--with pick and shovel and wheelbarrow. Mox reported than one of the foremen was a tyrant, and the foreman struck an older worker. Mox beat up the foreman and told him he'd kill him if he touched the older man again--at least that's what Mox told me. I believed him. Mox had only one good eye--the other one may have gotten damaged in prison. The bad eye perpetually wept--leaked, if you will--and Mox dabbed at it with his handkerchief, but the affliction didn't seem to cramp his style. He seemed to drive all over the western states during the summer.

I was listening to my Ipod in a cafe, and I saw a co-worker, and she asked, "Are you Ipoding?" I love American English. It absorbs new things immediately and manufactures new verbs, in this case the present progressive phrased as an interrogative. Back to Ipoding I go.
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