The Man is an audio novel set in the first decades of the 20th century
The stories and original songs are written by Steve Gillette
Track 4. “Impetuosity”
By 1905 people were talking about the influence of the blues. Two people came into our lives that summer. Betty Austin was a gifted singer, a lovely girl. She admired Johnny’s playing and he admired her singing, and when they performed together there was a definite sense of something wonderful happening.
They had not moved beyond this platonic admiration, but it seemed inevitable that they would be lovers, perhaps a great love story.
The gangster Billy Iron’s reputation didn’t do him justice. The Iron was a rusted army issue Colt .45 that he carried in a harness beneath his coat. Some said it was an unreliable weapon, prone to misfire. This gave some comfort to his enemies, but seemed to contribute to an inferiority complex for which he was always compensating. There was concern when he began to pay attention to Betty.
His intentions might have been platonic as well, but then, Plato didn’t carry a gun. He and his friends couldn’t help but notice the steamy sweetness of Betty’s duets with Johnny, and having had enough of it, he put three bullets into the old upright piano, one of them shattering one of Johnny’s ribs. One inch to the left, the bullet would have destroyed his elbow and ended his playing career. One inch to the right and it might have pierced his heart. Of the two, he probably would have chosen the latter.
Betty visited Johnny in the hospital late that night, kissed him for the first and last time, and disappeared without a trace. We feared the worst, but rumors began to circulate that she had gone to live with the family of a secret cousin somewhere in Kansas. She must have known that Johnny could not protect her from Billy Iron, and she couldn’t allow him to try.
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
The blues: a form of music, a mood and an attitude. “Been down so long, it looks like up to me.” A way of expressing one’s own appraisal of the sad condition of poverty or heartbreak.
The form has been traced to the1860s deep South. The Blues is often described as a blend of spirituals, work songs and field hollers, with a rhythmic ‘call and response’ repetition of musical phrases. The use of the harmonic seventh interval is characteristic of blues, and blues melodies are distinguished by the use of the flatted third, fifth and seventh degrees of the scale. In the “St. Louis Blues” we hear those notes in the melody of “That man got a heart like a rock cast in de sea.”
Most blues songs follow the three chord pattern of I, IV and V that we’ve seen in the earlier articles. In the case of this song, I also use the borrowed dominant, or the V of the V chord. Most blues pieces have a twelve bar or a sixteen bar structure. This choice will determine how the lyrics are displayed over the changing moods of the music. All seem to gear toward a sense of resolution and satisfaction in the last line.
Here is an excellent article which takes up many aspects of the blues musical tradition as well as the music theory. It’s written by a talented group of teachers who publish articles on many types of music and I’m glad to be able to recommend it. How To Play the Blues Scale And Use It In Your Music.
From the book:
As a child I had discovered the New York Public Library. It was a refuge from the cold. Later on I found occasion to spend time in the libraries around New York and in my travels further afield. I had rediscovered Mr. Clemens’ work, and it seemed to have a deeper meaning than I had perceived as a young person. Huckleberry Finn was especially telling. So many of my favorite musicians were Negro men who had lives that were mysterious to me. As I didn’t seem to be a serious racist, just a little stupid, they were willing to allow me in their circle.
I realized that I had a morbid fascination with slavery. I would try to picture each person in some sort of slave role; field hand, house slave, all seemed better off to have been granted their self-determination.
I asked our friend, Cooty one time why he was so generous about showing me his best ideas. “Hell, it dudn’t belong to me, we’re just birds in the trees, man, birds in the trees. Besides, nobody gonna cut me with my own stuff!”
Later, as I was privileged to take part in some discussions about the very themes for which I needed so sorely to be enlightened, the name of W. E. B. Dubois came to me. I sought out his writing, and was amazed at the display of forthright resentment, and the demands that his essays made, much unlike the easy-going character of the musicians I knew.
One of the points he returned to often had to do with the fact that men of color were being used to fight foreign wars to suppress the very advances that their own people should be making in this country. And that the wars they fought in brought nothing to the Negro community but higher prices. He also wrote that, “I increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor, and war.”
Thomas Jefferson had said, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god, because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” Along the same lines, it took considerable thought for me to grasp what Thomas Paine had written in The Rights of Man, that: “Toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it.”
I resolved to keep all these ideas in flux until I could make some progress with them. It seemed that there were several ways a person could be enslaved. And was freedom granted by someone in the government, or were we born in that state?
Mary took us to see a musical production based on L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’ve since heard many discussions of the symbolism of the Wizard stories. Someone explained that the Cowardly Lion was based on William Jennings Bryan who always seemed to be running for president.
A few years earlier I had found a free copy of Baum's children's book, Mother Goose in Prose, among the wheat flakes of Pettijohn's Breakfast Food. (“All the wheat but the overcoat”) The writing was too juvenile for me, but I had been fascinated with the drawings by Maxfield Parrish, one of my favorites from then on.
Over the years, I had read more of Baum's work, and I remember being troubled by some of the things he had written about the treatment of the American Indian people. In 1890 he wrote:
“The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.”
This was shocking to me. I had thought of him as a voice of wisdom, someone to be emulated. It was disturbing to read these words. “Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in latter ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Fenimore Cooper loved to heroise.” And he concluded:
“We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America.” I hadn’t forgotten my first longings to see the west and it pained me to hear such dire pronouncements about the native people.
I was only ten years old when he wrote those words, and I didn't see them for more than another ten. I didn't really understand the context or the issues at that time, only that they were disturbing. But there was another reason to put aside the books.
I met Millie when I was an inexperienced and impressionable youth. I was still living at home and money was thin. What Johnny and I could earn was shared for family expenses, so I had little with which to try to make an impression. Millie seemed drawn to things that were exciting and glamorous, I think the word I’m looking for is ‘expensive.’
I would visit her family’s home on West 43rd Street and we would take walks along the tree-lined streets of the stylish neighborhoods of mid-town, sometimes venturing into Central Park.
On one of our penny adventures we walked by a theater near Times Square where there was a show in progress. We had encountered matinees before, and had no thought of buying a ticket. But the roars of laughter that reached out into the street were compelling.
Having no money, we just drew nearer to the doors to try to hear what was going on. As we stood close to the displays of the current show bill, we were surprised by the caricatures of two black men in top hats in cakewalk poses. It was George Walker and Bert Williams in a show called In Dahomy. According to the poster, it was a farce about a necklace stolen in a fabled African kingdom.
Just then, the afternoon sun peeked through the buildings to cast a bright shock of light on Millie’s lovely profile and her image was reflected in the glass. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
I was so enthralled by her, and had the most difficult time with new feelings I can only describe as lust. I was torn with conflicting thoughts, unable to act on my feelings, not wanting to offend her, but not wanting to be less of a man than I should be. I had no way to discern her feelings about my amorous behavior or the lack of it, and didn't know what I would do if she had wanted me to do something. I was so uncomfortably aware of my own naivete, and immobilized by that discomfort.
One day she told me that she had met someone, a traveling glove salesman, actually a very successful man, with a large territory that included all of New England. Even though she had only known him a few weeks, she had decided that he was the one for her, and that she didn’t want to deceive me any more.
I was amazed that I hadn’t been aware of anything at all, but since our courtship (at least that was my sense of it) had been so respectful of social conventions of the time, and since we really had shared nothing resembling physical or even emotional intimacy, I had no sense of how deeply she felt about this other man.
She really didn’t want me to ask her any questions. She didn't tell me his name, but I learned that it was Samuel Goldfish. If she had told me, I fear I would have laughed. Years later I would have a strange encounter with Mr. Goldfish.
© 2012, Compass Rose Music, BMI
The tenements of New York.