A butcher friend of mine on Ninth Street said hello today, and I couldn’t help but notice the thin black cross on his forehead. I realized this was the first day of Lent and the cross was ash rubbed into his skin by a priest. “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” Such a neatly drawn cross. Back in the day, the priests used to do much sloppier work, unsightly smudges that bore no resemblance to crosses.
Then I thought of the Christian custom of giving up something pleasurable for Lent, a tradition that honors Jesus’ 40 days and nights of fasting in the desert. And I remembered why, even as a good Catholic boy, I thought there was something morbid about Christianity’s insistence on self-denial and the pursuit of suffering, as if life doesn’t already hand us all the suffering we can handle, and often more.
Listen to Muddy Waters’ music. It’s clear he knew most people don’t have to “give something up” to understand what suffering is. Look at his face. Can a priest teach you more than Muddy can? Not unless you’re tone-deaf and blind.
Footnote: Little Walter makes the lowly harmonica sound as powerful as a pipe organ in a cathedral.
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I had the good fortune to catch Muddy perform at a local club about a year or so before he died. I remember the place was packed and his health probably wasn’t the best so he couldn’t play for that long, but the show was great and the energy he put into “Mannish Boy” was incredible. I still get a smile remembering that performance every time I hear the song. Hard to believe its been 30 years.
And I’m pretty sure, judging by the smell wafting through the parking lot when he was taking a break, that he was an early adopter of medicinal cannabis 🙂
Haha, nice story. One interesting thing about the great blues guys is that they played into old age with dignity. It seemed natural for them to still be performing. They seemed to get better, up to a point. But you can’t say the same for the old rockers. I can’t stand watching old rock ‘n’ roll guys trying to do the same shows they did in their 20s.
Thanks for prompting me to spend another hour with Muddy Waters.
You’re welcome. When I want to spend an hour with Muddy I usually pull out the 3-CD box set of Chess recordings. It comes with a booklet that has great photos and notes by Robert Palmer.
I bought Fathers and Sons when it first came out on vinyl, and still find that to be a delight.
David, this is a perfect footnote to the conversation we had the other day. One of the things I have had such a hard time with since moving down here to Texas is the overwhelming feeling in the non-denom Christian congregations that God simply doesn’t want us to be happy or to enjoy our lives here on Earth. so many people I encounter seem to be just waiting for the afterlife for that. Must be the throwback to that angry ol’ Old Testament God we talked about. I don’t know about anyone else, but my God gave me five (and occasionally six) senses and a whole big beautiful world in which to enjoy them. He gave me a passion for glitter and chocolate and sex and red wine and red meat and music (yes, even country) and lollygagging around in bed all day once in a while. He gave me a body that dances, and fucks, and trembles at a lover’s touch, that feels best when it’s basking in the sun; a brain that questions and that revels in the magic it encounters every day; hands that create and do silly shit; a face that smiles and beams and squinches up sometimes at the sheer joyful absurdity of life. (Have you seen “Chocolat?” PERFECT!) I don’t have a lot of time for the OT tyrant-God. But Jesus and I could hang out (and often do). There’s a pop-country song called “A Heart Like Mine,” with these lyrics: “I heard Jesus, He drank wine. And I think we’d get along just fine. He could calm the storm and heal the blind, and I bet he’d understand a heart like mine.” The last line is good too: “When my name’s called on the roll, He’ll meet with with two long-stemmed glasses, make a toast to me coming home.”