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The Loop

Published: 2011/02/24
by Brandon Findlay

Music Lives Hear: The Lost Art of Keeping It Literate

Here’s the deal. I can tell, if you make the end of this paragraph, that you are literate, competent, have a minimum of culture, and are an alright kind of person. For one thing, you were looking at the features- that’s the culture kicking in. You are looking at said feature, away from the news and headlines, on Jambands.com, which happens to be an alright kind of website. That covers the competency, as well, as only those oblivious to the trappings of such a nom d’ incompris as “jambands” would come here looking for the good stuff. Perfectly legal good stuff, too, I may add.

That leaves literacy- one paragraph in and I can tell you are literate, much less these other qualifications of a life worth living? You bet I can. Consider this: 33 percent of high school graduates will never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book in 2002. These numbers (see endnote 1) paint a more honest picture of what this article will dub “functional literacy.” According the CIA’s World Fact Book (see endnote 2) the United States has a 99 percent literacy rate- all persons age 15 and up, who can read and write. That is their definition. Not mine.

I live, and you too probably, surrounded by the earmarks of illiterate thought and action every day. The independent fiefdoms of texting abbreviation cults and the 140 character limit of Twitter. The jam-loving nod of Facebook’s limit. The nonsensical ass-whippin’ that ebonics and its trite, white-bread developments have leveled upon the Queen’s beloved English.

Look up a close-caption of a post-fight Evander Holyfield interview. I think his “thanks to Geezzuzz” probably wasn’t meant to be spelled phonetically, people. But who can blame the poor sap who had to listen to, much less visualize and word-ify that? And I’m not blaming the Champ- you talk straight after having Mike Tyson glove-rape your face and features- and we won’t even get to the teeth.

Evander, I love ya, but Mike Tyson wasn’t the only thing that left that ring bloodied and defeated. Somewhere, Shakespeare’s tear ducts run dry.

The fact that spell check can’t tell the difference between “they’re”, “their” and “there”. Yes, we are all that lazy.

I don’t begrudge the Pat’s of our world, but some clearly defined Patrick’s and Patricia’s are nice too. Not everything in our world was meant to be homogenized. Akin to the confluence of genres in the jamband delta, our whole world of communicating via the written/typed/otherwise ‘read’ word has irrevocably changed. Some say- I say- for the worse.

There. I said it. You read it. Now we’re both guilty. If you pick up what I put down, don’t forget that possession is nine-tenth’s of the law, so they say. And so they wrote.

So yes- hell yes- if you made it even one sentence in, then you are doing better than most. I thank you and love you for it. Truly. Reading is like voting; we only get out of it whatever we put in to it. That’s still a good deal for someone out there, apparently. Bear that in mind.

And such was the interior fervor around my head (that’s “head ache” for our fellow illterati, by the way) lately as we come out of the holidaze and begin afresh. As I was searching around for something special to get my chillun’s (that’s blues-speak for “child” by the way) very significant other for the Christmas holiday (that’s Xmas for you text-heads, by the way), I took a gander at his own burgeoning music blog, MusicLivesHear.com, to see what he was covering.

I wanted to get him a book about writing on music, but wasn’t sure Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues would have had the same effect on him that it had on me when I was younger. Palmer didn’t just change my life with his work. He brought newsworthiness and gravitas to the careers of men and women who deserved it. He illustrated the career of the single most important blues musician who ever lived, starting with McKinley Morganfield leaving the Stovall Spa and Resort and then drilling white-washed airwaves a new one with a Telecaster, a cranked amp, and a piece of steel across steel.

I’ve long wondered if that Tele had “This Machine Kills Blues Fascists” carved in the back. God knows it did, with prejudice. God knows I would call that “functional literacy” at its finest, with pride.

Mr. Palmer died when I was just about 17, and I truly wish I could have been his Facebook friend and relayed to him just how important his life’s work, his life’s service, had been. I would have spell-checked and avoided text-ese for that particular message.

Whatever I bought for the young Tom Crawford- TC here on- I wanted it to be special. And I just couldn’t find it. My wife had many other, not-so-difficult ideas, and so I relented. Everyone’s got a birthday, after all.

But then it hit me. His web address was the key- to resolving said head ache and to inspiring his own development as a craftsman of words, melodies, cleverness, history, and all the rest. But for the (public) record- I’m still absolutely willing to go back and score a Chuck Klosterman trifecta for you, if you’d rather, TC. Just sayin’.

TC’s blog reminds me that as each generation of writers begins anew, the disease of illiteracy grows here, shrinks there, and continually adapts to whatever weak prescriptions are swallowed against it. His play on words was more than cute. More than clever, too. It hit the very essence of what every single music writer, marketer, and otherwise over-self-inflated barometer of musical importance tries to level with. “Music Lives Hear” is such a fine, perfect, appropriately cheeky acceptance of the music writer’s mission that I cannot help but believe that Robert Palmer would have loved it too, on some level. The fact that the web address was still available is surely a sign that treasure will wait for wit and cleverness to mature.

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