It’s not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns now that bind me. Or something that somebody said because they thought we fit together walking. It’s just knowing that the world will not be cursing or forgiving when I walk along some railroad track and find that you’re moving on the backroads by the rivers of my mem’ry and for hours you’re just gentle on my mind.
I could write for a hundred years and not get within a hundred miles of this. To all the homies gentle on my mind.
As far as I’ve seen, from the bush In the wilderness, to every known city I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, Dhaka, Calcutta Soweto, Mozambique, Istanbul, Rio, Rome Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Taiwan, Great Britain Belfast, to the desert, Spain Some little bitty island in the middle of the Ṗacific All the way back home, to my town To my town Bitchin’, complaining, yet some people ain’t got shit to eat Bitchin’, moaning, so many people you know what they ain’t got
One day, B.B. King is going to die. I say this because everyone dies, eventually, and B.B. King is 86 years old. One day, B.B. King is going to die and pages and pages of words will be written about him. College boys who say they love “real music” will write “RIP B.B.” on Twitter and charm girls in the quad with If You Love Meon repeat. Pasty white baristas will say how much they loved Lucille and how B.B. was at his prime in 1970 - before they added strings to The Thrill is Gone LP. Proper journalists will chronicle his illustrious career, his brutal touring schedule, and his rags-to-riches story as the son of a Mississippi Delta sharecropper. Rock critics will note his undeniable influence on early guitar gods (Clapton, Hendrix, Richards) and the staggering soul in his left index finger. All of these tributes will be predictably reactionary: “legendary old guy dies, now let’s pretend he was the best thing ever,” but for me, all of it will be 100% true. No single musician has meant more to me than B.B. King.
When I was 15, I wanted to play guitar so I could serve God. I’m not kidding. I knew who Clapton and Hendrix were, but I also knew they were drug addict hippies headed for hell, or in Jimi’s case, already there. I wanted to play guitar and sing songs about how much I loved Jesus. Jimi or Eric never did that. It wasn’t an electric guitar I wanted anyway. In church, we only used big fat acoustic Yamahas and “soloing” was unwelcome in Praise music. I was a quick study, learning chords from a book and picking up pointers here and there. Three months later, near my 15th birthday, my parents ponied up $299 for a brand new Washburn D12. It was nothing but church songs and major scales for me.
A few weeks later, I don’t remember how it happened or where, but someone saw me playing guitar and told me to listen to a song called The Thrill is Gone. I found it on Napster and illegally downloaded the first secular song in my library. I hit the Play button on WinAmp and my memory goes blank from there. I was spellbound. What the fuck was this? How can something sound so sad and sweet and pure and filthy? That was it - whatever it was, that’s what I wanted in my ears all the time from then on.
I downloaded everything. I knew what I was doing was wrong, so I sought the most innocuous sounding song titles: Sweet Little Angel, Let the Good Times Roll, Why I Sing the Blues, Lucille, Paying the Cost to be the Boss, Blues Man. I listened and I listened and had no idea how he was doing it. How can two notes sound like three and a half? How can one note sound so sad? Thinking back, I wonder what might have happened if I had the option of watching B.B. King tutorials on YouTube in my room back then. The fact of the matter is, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The magic wasn’t in the notes, it was in the hands.
B.B. King was born Riley B. King. He was born on a plantation in 1925. A fucking plantation. He was given his first guitar around age 12 and he hasn’t put it down since. He moved away to Memphis in the 1940s, playing churches and street corners. Riley B. King eventually came to be known as the Beale Street Blues Boy and then just Blues Boy, and now just B.B. Somewhere between being raised on a fucking plantation and playing on a Beale Street corner, whatever was inside Mr. King came out through his guitar, Lucille. Lucille is big, black, and beautiful. Yup. She plugs straight into the amp - no pedals, no compressors, no overdrive, no nothin’. Whatever you hear coming out of that loudspeaker is Lucille singing straight into the mic. Like B.B. says in his song Lucille, “I like the way Sammy sings and I like the way Frank sings, but I can get a little Frank, Sammy, a little Ray Charles, in fact all the people with soul in this. A little Mahalia Jackson in there.” Look out.
50 years later, the Beale Street Blues Boy is blaring from the stereo of an Electron Blue Pearl Honda Civic Si piloted by a 16 year old Korean boy in rural Maryland. Rice rockets and B.B. King Live at the Regal defined the better part of my teenage years. The Washburn D12 was now collecting dust in the corner and a white Epiphone Les Paul was connected to a Crate practice amp beneath my desk. Every day I sat and copied. A phrase here, a note there. Most nights I’d quickly become frustrated and give up - cursing my ears, my equipment, and God himself. I wish I had known that it was all in the hands - there was nothing to decode because the actual notes were secondary.
B.B King taught me soul. He showed me the power and sophistication of simplicity; how one thing can sound like everything. B.B. King is the first musician to make me feel music more than hear it. He unlocked feelings I didn’t know I had. It sounds trite now, but at sixteen, who else could teach me things like that? And as the world grows overwrought with gadgets, trends, and gimmicks, I’m reminded of the truth of B.B. King: you don’t need anything but a good pair of hands and a little soul to be whoever you want to be.
What I needed to know at sixteen, living as a yellow alien among white folk, was that emotions are universal. Soul translates to any language. Soul is colorblind and ageless. I didn’t have to look like B.B. King to love B.B. King. Again, it sounds obvious now, but this is earth-shattering to a sixteen year old who sees the world in absolutes. He taught me that soul is truth and truth is universal. Truth is simple and it doesn’t require a leap of faith - just a good set of ears. So, while the preacher preached and the choir sang, it was B.B. King that opened my eyes to the truth that really set me free. And my for that, I’m forever grateful to the King’s hands.
During the Season 10 auditions for American Idol, I fell in love. It was a special kind of love. Not the kind of love worth singing or crying about. It wasn’t homo or hetero - it wasn’t sexual at all. It was a different breed of love. Not like “I Will Always Love You” love or even “The Greatest Love of All” love (that would be inside of me). It was more akin to the love one feels for a child or a puppy. A proud, nurturing love. A caretaker’s love. A father’s love. I loved a boy, an Angelboy as a matter of fact. His name was Jacee Badeaux. He was 15, from Lafayette, Louisiana.
For his audition, Angelboy sang Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” His voice, so pure and pristine, rang like heaven’s handbells on christmas morning. His fat little cheeks pinched his eyes puffy and his tousled hair was what happens when Mom tries the Bieber Cut at home. He breathed much too heavy for a 15 year old, but then again, all that soul don’t come easy. Angelboy.
Oh Angelboy. He was a shoo in for Hollywood Week, but it was only a matter of time before the darkness would corrupt him there.
A few episodes after Angelboy, another young singer was showcased. Scotty, a gangly country bumpkin, 16 years old, from Garner, North Carolina. He described himself as an All-American Kid, singing since before the age of one, retelling his doctor’s tale about coming out of the womb humming “Bye, Baby Bunting.” It was apocryphal. He played baseball and had smirk lines tattooed on his face.
His voice was deep, in tone only. He sang Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” Admittedly, it was the right choice of song. It showcased his style: overtly hick with a tinge of rapist, and he got to do his George Strait head bobs at the end of every phrase. Scotty made it through to Hollywood and oh yes, he went on to win Season 10 of American Idol.
As far as reality TV competitions go, Idol’s Hollywood Week is right up there with eating a donkey shit covered cockroach while amazing racing through Sri Lanka with a Kardashian sister and 8 kids. It breaks people. And the absolute nadir of human existence is broadcast on network TV as the hotel lobby at 4 AM during the Group Stage of Hollywood Week. Nineteen year old demi-divas with their weaves a mess and voices hoarse, singing motown, acapella, while the white girl struggles with leaning right on the “1 and 3 and 1 and 3 and” choreography.
It is in this world where our two contestants meet. Angelboy, the beloved, so pure and so rare, joins a group called the Guaps. As they begin to assemble, we hear the faint echoes of carnage in the background. It soon becomes an incessant 3 second stream of noise: “baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low… baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low… baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low…” It’s Scotty. He’s singing the opening line of the Josh Turner song, on repeat. Robotically. Like some kind of twisted singing cowboy machine used to tell redneck fortunes in Alabama. Scotty couldn’t find a group and was now whoring himself to anyone who’d listen. He finds his way to the Guaps, gazes off into nothing and shows em what he can do, “baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low…” It is Angelboy, the merciful, inviting him to join their ranks. Angelboy the Merciful.
There they stood, side by side, until Sabatoge! The Guaps have mysteriously decided to reduce their quintet by one. Such a sudden change. Why? What demonry of black magic and destruction, Mcreery? Scotty Saboteur! Saboteur! I hiss at the screen. Young Angelboy is asked to leave the group. Abandoned by the ones he came to save. The cold shoulder from some unimportant dipshit named Clint with obnoxious white glasses. Angelboy’s beauty replaced by a rival who looks like the slow-witted younger brother of the MAD magazine coverboy. It is hard to watch. Hard to fathom. Angelboy is fighting back tears, but pain comes so flush in the face of one so pure.
“It’s ok. Y’all have fun, ok? It’s ok. It’s ok,” Angelboy says to the ones who spurn him. He means it. His kindness knows not irony. He walks idly through the lobby. Lost and bewildered. And then he begins to weep.
What happens after this no longer matters to me. What’s lost is lost forever.
Angelboy, 15, from Lafayette, Louisiana has learned of betrayal. Pain. Pain of the heart. Is this who we are now? A group of savages ripping apart the innocent boy? All for what? For Hollywood Week? For sport? For making it through to the Top 13 and holding the microphone like some god damned one-handed piccolo while you awkwardly bobblehead your way through ruining another country classic? How fitting you’ve become the American Idol, Scotty Mcreery. Savage. This is who we are now - savages. And for that, I will never forgive you.
I still think of him often, Angelboy. Our Angelboy, 15, from Lafayette, Louisiana. I’m reminded of him when I see betrayal. I’m reminded when I see kindness. I’m reminded whenever I see a fat white kid with maple colored hair. And every time I witness pain of the heart, I think of him, how purity is lost, not at the hands of time, but by the cruelty of others. All it takes is a little singing competition.
Brad Paisley (w/ Band Perry and Mad Magazine Boy), Mandalay Bay Events Center, 1/28/12
I’ve always felt a great concert shouldn’t have peaks and valleys, only a constant climb towards life-affirming, transcendent, awesome ass shit. I’ve never seen this concept executed more perfectly than Brad Paisley Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Brad Paisley is the only person who’s ever made me want to quit playing guitar. He plays at a hopelessly fantastic level. Every minute of last night was a bonafide highlight and it was actually the most high tech show I’ve ever seen. At one point the place went absolutely bonkers when it appeared Carrie Underwood was sashaying onstage for “Remind Me.” It was a 3-D holographic image of Carrie but it got the job done (read: SO HOT). No one could tell it was fake, she even started clapping on cue at the end of Brad’s solo.
If there’s one thing country music is about, it’s reality. It’s not about art or struggle or some deeper metaphor to excavate, country music is about reality. Brad said as much last night and it’s exemplified in his songs - plainspoken, self-deprecating, and simply, beautifully honest. I love that. He introduced his band by way of a star trek/wars -themed animation set in motion by a code red! interruption from William Shatner calling for warp speed. Brad breaks into Nervous Breakdown and the animation takes care of the whole “introducing the band” part. It’s just silly. It’s perfect. Brad signs autographs and gives away acoustic guitars after using them for the intro (This is Country Music). He walks out to a platform in the back and sings Letter to Me and Mud on the Tires for the cheap seats. He opens the show with a silhouette of himself beamed in purple lasers. It’s just silly and it’s perfect. DId I mention he took time out to hand his mic to a guy on the floor so dude could propose to his girlfriend? She said yes and Brad breaks into an epic version of She’s Everything with a 3 minute solo on his strat that would make Eric Johnson cream his pants. It’s just silly and it’s perfect. American Saturday Night was perfect for Vegas on a Saturday night and Welcome to the Future had a pretty incredible videoscape of america-humanity-pacman. I’m still in sensory overload 24 hours later. Incredible show by an incredible musician.
Julie Andrews is f*cking hot. I don’t know what spurred me to post this, but she is the most underrated beauty of the last 60 years. She’s like a cannonball of cuteness beaming with talent and laughter. She’s Emma Watson 1.0. Yes, I’m still straight.
Chilly Gonzales opened. Funny and brilliantly entertaining with his spiel on politics and transposing well-known major key songs into minor. Minor version of Ode to Joy and Happy Birthday were particularly “jewish” as he noted. Chilly’s piano playing is furious and reminds me why the piano is in the percussion family. Loved it.
Feist is a songbird in every way. She sings her between song banter. Her voice is clear as a bell and her guitar playing is sparse and tactful. The songs take on a whole new life (as they should) in a live environment and her music is so incredibly dynamic if you let it breathe with a full band onstage. Metals has a significantly darker tone than her previous two albums, but the sounds were deep last night. The highlight for me was My Moon My Man which was timed perfectly and loud as fuck. Love it when drummers do that.