RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Friday, January 31

SONG OF THE DAY: I'll Fly Away

Back when music was new as a form of commodity in America, it hadn’t yet been divvied up like it is now, and they just had a “jukebox singles” list, or the shit that got played the most in jukeboxes. It was a folksy mix of honkytonk white folks and bluesy African-American shit. I’d researched all this because I had been contemplating launching a podcast about the history of number one country singles, and the earliest history of what is now country, fell under that non-racially divided jukebox listing. It wasn’t until later, when the industry made a concerted effort to segregate music into racialized categories that this division became the standard. Organically, when it was just people putting a coin into a jukebox – a true democracy – it was far more mixed.
I bring all this up because bluegrass music is raw as fuck, and one of the weirdest folk contributions to American culture that came from an ethnic European subset, up in the nether regions of Scotland and Ireland, and all the settler-colonials who weren’t English enough to be fine and welcomed mightily into the Eastern strongholds of newfound American culture, so they got sent out into the native wilderness to help settle it. “We kinda hate you, but you’re better than non-Europeans, so go out there and make that shit safe for us all, and if you succeed, well glory be to god we have expanded our idea of what civilization is. And if you fail, well fuck it, it’s not like you’re fine English people anyways.” Bluegrass hyperspeed twang is a wonderful example of fermentation of old world shit plopped into strange environments of a different continent, and something amazing sprouting from that shitpile.
Ralph Stanley obvious is the God of bluegrass music. The music form sort of revived itself in recent years with fringe crossover from jam band circuits, and I’ll be honest, I don’t like a lot of that stuff. And it’s weird, because you can’t really define what’s not good about it, but it’s very much like when you hear some white dudes doing blues music or jazz music or hip hop, and sure it’s technically fine, but something integral is missing. Often times we just call this “soul” when we can’t put a scientific thumb on what it really is.
In our racial divisions of whiteness and non-whiteness, we sort of forget the fact that if you focus in on “whiteness” alone, there’s a lot of shades of difference within that too. A lot of cultures were oppressed and destroyed on the European continent alone, before global expansion of certain European empires. I mean obviously the history of the English in the British Isles is one of the best examples of this, with the Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, and others all having been conquered by the English. All that just got laundered in the offshore investment operation of empire that ended up being called America into a vague whiteness.
But there’s plenty of examples, even within vague whiteness, where some white people just ain’t doing something else correctly that other white people have a long history of doing pretty great. Bluegrass is that. Shaggy-haired, oil bearded dudebros can learn the mandolin, can learn a banjo, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing it in a strong way. Something often times is still missing, which you can’t pinpoint, or teach, but would likely fall under that “soul” term.
There’s a lot of weird Appalachian identity memes online now, I guess people attempting to distance themselves from the dominant white culture that’s done so much damage. A lot of that memetics looks heavy-handed, and not real though. Ain’t all these people out here had somebody they called Meemaw. Some of y’all performatively complaining about people putting soap in your skillet bought that “skillet” at Target about three years ago.
But I ain’t here to complain (though I just did), because when real culture hits – not planned culture like an English garden, but feral culture that sprouts from the shitpiles of human existence, volunteering itself to make life feel better – when that type of shit hits the most dirtgodly high notes, it is transcendent. That’s Ralph Stanley in his finest moments. When I die, I hope y’all remember to cremate me and scatter my ashes around the 69th mile marker of the Rivanna subdivision line, between Scottsville and Bremo Bluff, right near the Seven Islands where I used to play dominoes with elven people. But I also hope y’all have a big ass party in a field somewhere, and remember me in good ways, and hopefully somebody has the sense to play “I’ll Fly Away” loud as fuck. Just do it from a car with the doors opened so everybody can hear the radio though if all you can find is unqualified dudebros to try and do a cover. If y’all have some raggedy ass shinefaces hiding behind false beards playing bluegrass at my “Raven is dead, let’s remember that fool” celebration, I’m gonna haunt the fuck out of you all.

No comments: