Hellhound on My Trail
by Joel Lipman
So when people dig a blues doo, do they swim
the music, blast the hat, get rough, get ragged and swampy,
crawl to the club, swagger, stagger, eat gumbo,
slum easy, brawl, boogie?
Do they watch the tube in the grande hotel,
prone on the bed-whatever's stupid
in Cleveland, probably geronomonian baseball
or news from the local chathead? Do they
stick it in the sauna (I did)? Do they burn it
in the john (I did)? Do they lose their floor
in the parking deck (Did that)? Do they
eat rice with the Chinaman, toss jello shots,
suck worms with the slummies on the pier, noodles at Thai
Guy, lick cherries at Manhattan Rose's Hi Ball Heaven?
Did it all.
Which doesn't mean I don't dig Government Mule-
I didn't have a chance. The floor got sticky,
I ran into Zelinski on the stairs-we wanted to
cruise back over time to the Ottawa Tavern, long closed,
the shutters peeling, burn one out back,
but Peter Green took the boards
and we each cashed beer tickets and got demented.
Zena was there. And Mike, Ardyth, Wilson T., Joey from Hula's
in Hamtrammack, a bunch of scrubs from Elyria-bangers.
I tried to look the other way, but the punkies kept screaming
"Chris Whitley! Chris Whitley!" So I bought his boss CD
and wished I could have found one by G. Love,
the Philly dude who burned his ticket and walked
offstage to ecstasy. I saw him later,
the night much rounder Sunday outside Severance Hall,
where he sat on the concrete abutment
in a red shirt, surrounded by pretty girls.
Now this guy Johnson, dead 60 years from poison,
scratchin' the neck of a $9 axe with a busted bottle,
slurring and mauling phrases in Dallas
while the room walls sagged and the car horns barked-
waddabout him? Heard those singers,
watched their lips part, ate my chicken, drank bourbon.
But that Johnson, daddycool to Eric Clapton, tell meľ
Taj Mahal without Hawaii and muttonchop whiskers,
Rob Wasserman poor and nasty in a cottonshack,
Cassandra Wilson eating lynchmob specials and grits
without the high yellow beauty and chill whiteboy sidemen-
something like that, if you knew him.
But nobody did, 'cept Johnny Shines, who too is sadly gone.
So when the story of this illbegotten land is writ,
with all the slaves and corpses stacked and counted,
clublights dimmed and roadside joints
darkened and buried, when the blues is something
faint and steamy, dead and gone before the human
sobs and laughter wander out into the everywhere-Delta night,
that's when Mr. Johnson antes up his licks and notes
and the scratchy, cracky old sounds awaken.
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