Don Rogers: Straight lines and Booker T.
Ask me about the writing conference, and I’ll tell you about the Jazz Fest.
About sinking into the dream.
At Aspen’s Belly Up: Booker T & the MGs. “Green Onions,” of course, Motown, movie soundtracks, Memphis blues. Man, we all moved.
Then down the street to the Little Nell. Bria Skonberg and her arrhythmic trumpet, her blonde hair and tiny voice fooling you before booming rich and deep, reaching something you never thought she, the man-bun tinkling on the piano or the sullen standup bass could produce just walking in on her cupping her little instrument, muted and almost shy.
People! What they are capable of when they, you know, put themselves out there. Really put themselves out there.
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Of course these musicians do it for a living. Smooth, never hurried, debonair Booker T. Jones with his calm, white, white smile at 74, even amid songs he and his band were whipping into hurricanes. He’s done this forever. Did you know he wrote “Green Onions” at 17?
Skonberg really is young, infectious, barely able to contain herself, riffing jokes too fast to catch, asking us if we’d ever heard of Valaida Snow. No? Well, she was a marvel in the 1930s, toast of the town, all towns and all over Europe in her heyday as an African-American female trumpet player. Anyone here heard of her? No? Well, Louie Armstrong nodded to Valaida Snow as the second greatest trumpet player in the world, Skonberg said with a giggle and a knowing look.
Then she played one of Snow’s songs. Nothing shy there, all sass and strength.
This idea, sinking into the dream, had simmered all week. A dozen of us, including our guide, the professor and author Tom Barbash, ingested manuscript excerpts and book readings, words and stories in their own music, lyrical and sometimes strange, haunting, funny, futuristic, nostalgic, even terrifying.
All we did was sink into dreams. And then disassemble how these dreams came together, appreciate how the masters did it, how we might, and suddenly realize — as epiphanies! — classmates were close, so close, some maybe there already.
Ghost stories, coming of age stories, love stories, not-exactly-love stories, futurist stories, haunting from the Middle East, in the shadow of an abandoned steel mill in middle America, an elementary school approached by a strange man with a strange boy and about to blow up in ’50s Texas. San Francisco fog, Vietnam, Afghanistan, desert Mexico. Out there, way out there, and as close as an old graveyard no more than a quarter of a mile from the condo against the mountain where we met each morning.
We finished the week tired. Head tired. Even our star with all the infectious enthusiasm of Skonberg for really an esoteric art, well, she left tired too. But this might have been contemplation of her flights to Vietnam that night.
So quickly these dreams break. The end of a set, end of a week. All memory now.
In waking life, or maybe another dream, now I’m in Chaco Canyon amid ruins, ravens and orange rock, a kiva and a whisper of wind and contemplation what people so long ago did. Here they lined up windows to the sun and seasons precisely, cut perfectly straight lines for roads out, even up and over cliff faces. Why?
All roads in their time led here. Dreams past. Dreams present. Dreams of what may come. This is what brings us alive, what wakes us up. A raven drifts overhead and caws like it knows me.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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