Friday, January 14, 2011

Poetry Friday: Justin Townes Earle's Harlem River Blues (plus a cry from Kabir)

Was there ever a more infectious song about drowning? (Ya-huh, that's an original song, even though you'd swear it's a classic as old as a muddy river.)

I'm puzzled over why a call to suicide is cheering me up today. Justin Townes Earle seems to be saying, "Go out on top. Don't wait for life to screw you over, or for you to screw up in life. Drown while you're in a state of grace."

As one who deeply loves quite a few people who are bursting with grace, or who are just figuring out how filled with grace they are, or who are reaching for grace at a moment much later than they planned, or who are simply tired and yearning for grace after being beat, time and time again, I don't want ANY of them to be covered up "without a sound."

If Earle meant that, then why is the music---the emotional current of the song as opposed to the intellectual argument of the lyrics----so joyous?  Because walking that walk---"up the FDR" (a NYC parkway that runs along the Harlem River)---"a-clapping and a-singing"---is exactly how to survive. I can't imagine the FDR is attractive. I can't imagine it's easy to walk. And I can't imagine the river at your side ever gives up and goes away instead of lapping "dirty water" against your ears. So what to do, then, but set its siren call to a transparent and luminous counter-rhythm? Brilliant, Mr. JTE.

In other words,

Do you have a body? Don't sit on the porch!
Go out and walk in the rain!
If you are in love,
then why are you asleep?
Wake up, wake up!
You have slept millions and millions of years
Why not wake up this morning?

----poem by Indian poet Kabir, as translated by Robert Bly, found in the pages of Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World

More about Justin Townes Earl's album, Harlem River Blues

Poetry Friday is hosted today by poet Laura Purdie Salas.