Let’s hear it for Ma Rainey

While my contemporaries were listening to Elvis and the Beatles, I was listening to folk music and the blues. So, of course, I heard Ma Rainey songs and wondered what it would have been like to see one of her over-the-top, gravel-voiced performances in person. Sadly, not possible since the “Mother of the Blues” died here in Rome, Georgia before I was born.

As I wrote my Florida Folk Magic Series of novels about a Florida conjure woman, I heard the blues inside my head and wished the cost of getting permission to include the words of still-copyrighted songs wasn’t more than I could afford. Yet, the series of novels is built on the blues and the lives one led to understand and experience and play the blues. And, Ma Rainey.

As Wikipedia explains, The singer began performing as a teenager and became known as Ma Rainey after her marriage to Will Rainey, in 1904. They toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later formed their own group, Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Her first recording was made in 1923. In the next five years, she made over 100 recordings, including “Bo-Weevil Blues” (1923), “Moonshine Blues” (1923), “See See Rider Blues” (1924), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1927), and “Soon This Morning” (1927).”

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” coming December 18th on Netflix. As I said on Facebook after seeing the trailer, Viola Davis appears to be exceptional in the role, one that’s quite a bit different than the character we saw in her TV show “How to Get Away With Murder.” Before any of you embarrass yourselves by asking why anyone would make a movie about Ma Rainey’s butt, I should point out that the title refers to a dance, not human anatomy even though Rainey’s persona and many of her songs radiated sex.

My fantasy while writing the four novels in the series was that Davis’ production company would find the books, put an option on them, and produce them with Davis playing the conjure woman. Seeing her in the Ma Rainey role tells me she would have been a very convincing Eulalie.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the movie lives up to its trailer and the early reviews.

Malcolm

You can buy all four novels in the folk magic series in the so-called Kindle boxed set.

‘I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)’

That’s my favorite song title, an oldie but a goodie that premiered in Duke Ellington’s Jump for Joy review in 1941. While the review never made it to Broadway, this song (which is jazz) was sung by dozens of singers.

Those of you who’ve read any of the novels in my Florida Folk Magic series, know that I’m partial to the blues. Jazz was a close second, followed by folk songs and a smattering of country music. Rock usually didn’t speak my language.

In yesterday’s post (Rainy Day Memories), I wrote about the kinds of events that add fuel to an author’s work over and over. We often write a story or a poem because we got it bad and that ain’t good. When an author’s feeling the blues (and great jazz), s/he’s connected to himself/herself at a deep level and assuming s/he’s not drunk, can often write some very good stuff. The emotion and power are there, and they fuel the story even if the story has nothing to do with the song the author is listening to.

Rainy day memories work that way, too. We replay them again and again. They may never appear in a story as they happened, but–happy or sad–they are the power that connects us to what our characters are feeling and living through. The memories in my previous post have snuck into many of my stories. When we return to such memories, we return for a reason, I think. As Dr. Phil might say, they were often defining moments. So they have power. So they’re something within us we still need to figure out, perhaps solve or get past. Our fiction helps us to that.

As an author, I often hope that when “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good,” that my fiction or nonfiction finds people who are feeling that way and helps them get past it–or, at least, understand it. You’ve probably heard stories out of Hollywood where child actors were told their dog had died in order to get them to shed real tears for the scenes they were about to film. I don’t think most authors need to conjure up the worst that’s even happened to them in order to write. When we connect with the characters as “real people,” we feel what they feel.

Nonetheless, rainy day memories often help us get to that point whether we feel like we got it bad or we feel like jumping for joy.

Malcolm

In addition to magical realism and contemporary fantasy, Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released satirical mystery “Special Investigative Reporter.”

 

Now is a good time to listen to the blues

Used to be, a lot of folks sang the blues, listened to them, too, because they spoke soul to soul about the troubles they were seeing and would see again the following day and possibly always.

Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey

I grew up listening to the blues, they’ve always spoken to me, and even though I don’t hear them as much now as I once did, I listened to them a lot while I was writing my last two books because those books were about troubles and bearing heavy loads and making things right. I hear Ma Rainey singing in my dreams, whether it’s “See See Rider” or “Boll Weevil” and really those songs are lullabies.

The Presidential election has created a great upheaval, folks shouting and fearful, yelling at friends, becoming argumentative, thinking all is lost no matter which candidate they voted for. There’s not a lot of comfort out there when things are so polarized you have to keep silent unless you agree 100% with what an other person says.

Good people voted for both candidates, but most folks don’t see it that way. Those who like Candidate A say you’re evil if you voted for Candidate B. Those who like Candidate B say you’re evil if you like Candidate A. I think we have to keep working toward consensus on the important issues, focusing on programs rather than fiery labels, and focusing on respect rather than assuming the worst in everyone else.

I swear to goodness, people need the blues so they’ll feel somebody out there knows how they feel, whether it’s the Mother of the Blues (Ma Rainey) or one of a hundred other people who converted their feelings into music that resonated with everyone who needed a lift up or a reminder they aren’t alone.

As it is, a fair number of people have retreated into their quiet living rooms or their like-thinking groups of family and friends. Perhaps that’s a reasonable start. But it isn’t a reasonable end. “Us vs. Them” is a poor way to live. There’s no respect in it,  no giving others the benefit of the doubt,  no chance for agreement.

The blues make a man or a woman human rather than the shouting member of a mob or the defeated person who cannot cope or consent to live the best they can no matter what life throws at them. We need more humanness today, more time to come to terms with whatever sorrows we hold, whatever troubles we’ve seen, more compassion for those we don’t understand, and a chance to keep doing right and honorable things without expecting a gold medal for it, and a way of thinking that leads us to assume those around us are good and trustworthy without their having to wear slogan-covered tee shirts or safety pins or a shrill and self-righteous cynicism on their sleeves.

My prescription: Go to YouTube or iTunes or Amazon and find some blues and settle down for the night with nothing but the music–and possibly a Mason jar of moonshine–and let put the world on hold. Let the blues run through you like a sweet hot knife through willing warm butter. You won’t need to call me in the morning because you’ll be all right with the world–come what may.

–Malcolm