Schizophrenic Conversation at the Four Winds Bar:
A Poem of Blues-Rock Numbers, and Crap-Game Numerology
Posters of guitar legends from the dust bowl south to the British Invasion
adorn flat black walls.
I could name our pub Boomers Last Stand, and it would fit.
Just a place where a fading generation can hopelessly encounter time…
Alone in the corner, speaking in tongues
not native of this century, resides
a digital juke machine rocking a Wurlitzer facade,
from which the holy ghosts of six string apostles
quote their verse,
recalling when their congregations
gathered at lost holes in walls, village cafes,
and blood bucket dives off dark dirt roads.
To me, it’s less than spiritual.
Just working class noise:
folk, bluegrass, rockabilly, soul,
and of course, the blues.
Those barroom gospels are little more than
a soundtrack for our Friday night game of checkers.
Maybe it’s the anachronistic decor of this place,
the way it tries to channel 1930s via 1960s here in the 21st century,
but it brings a smile to my face when you tell me:
“To play the blues you gotta feel ’em,
that good ol’ devil music!”
You accent the statement with a shot of Maker’s Mark.
I consider it for a moment and raise my glass of Jack No.7 and toast,
“Right. To blood and black magic.”
Then call for another and continue, “You make it sound all so colorful, but
really, the music, it’s only math: seven notes, three chords, twelve bars and four/four time.
Anyone can play the blues and not feel ’em. Just practice.”
“Yeah,” you say, “Practice.
“Practice in moonless cemeteries at the witching hour on a Friday the thirteenth –
Learn your chords, get your timing and your rhythm.
You’ll gain proficiency, but you won’t know the blues;
not until you hit rock bottom with your heart, and spirit broken.
It’s then you begin.
Visit the hoodoo witch! Get your mojo! Play the juke joints! See the tea! Breathe the
smoke! Roll the bones and call
the magic numbers!
Roll, looking up cold and cruel: snake eyes.
Two sixes: boxcars! Makes me think Mystery Train,
the first song Elvis performed in public!
Who steps off when the train arrives?
Six ace – Up jumps the devil: lucky number seven. Yessir, lucky as all hell!
Ace caught a deuce!
Shit, the devil hangs with three big Johnsons so he can shake ’em, simultaneously,
in each face of the trinity! How’s that for math?
When the lights go out, and you pack away that last gig,
if you see him, ask Samuel Johnson about walking the pavement of good intentions,
then ask Tommy and Robert about doin’ numbers with Old Scratch.
Ask how Tommy Johnson nailed his deal on the cross
of highways 61, and 49 – Clarksdale Mississippi.
Given a choice between walking down lucky seven or ominous thirteen,
he chose to roll instead. He called six, and lived as many decades.
Die? The devil’s bones ain’t black and white –
they’re midnight black and blood red! He calls 7 and 11,
and loves to see you throwin’ nines,
like Robert Johnson, his fate rolled at the crossroads, of highway 1, and highway 8
up in Rosedale!”
“Shades of Peetie Wheatstraw,” I reply, “That devil jive is just that: jive.”
You respond, “Good ol William Bunch a.k.a. Peetie Wheatstraw,
the devil’s son in law!
High Sheriff of Hell!
He cashed out on his birthday at the age of 39.
Add that three and nine and you get 12! The only way to throw twelve is two sixes: box cars!
The man died when his car hit a train.
I wonder if it was 16 coaches long?”
An old favorite of mine, plays from the holy haunted machine,
barely detectable over crowd noise: Jimi’s If Six Were Nine, which prompts you to toast:
“To The Beatles bringing white masses to black music.
To Lennon’s Revolution Number 9,
and to the legends who sought the blues and found dead at 27:
To Brian rolling stoned Jones,
James Marshall (stack) Hendrix,
Janice queen-of-wails Joplin,
Jim lizard king Morrison,
Kurt screamin’ pain Cobain,
Amy back-to-black Winehouse,
and of course, to Robert god-damned Johnson,
first official member of that club!
‘Number nine, number nine, number nine’… Play it backwards:
‘Turn me on deadman!”
We each throw back a shot and you continue,
“But the King called an easy 6, and saw 42.
I’m talking about rock ‘n’ roll Elvis, that boy from Tupelo
who sang like a black man and played like a redneck.
Whereas young brother Robert fell
to the tooth and claw of that big black dog, the hell hound
(which devoured the bluesman’s spirit, and shat his poor soul into the 9th circle…)”
You change dialect and do your worst John Lennon –
“The king, a rock ‘n’ roll heretic bound for circle 6 if there ever was one,
sang bloody ‘Hound Dog,’ and passed on his throne!”
We smile at the irony and wordplay.
Sang, from sanguis, Latin (the language of church and empire) for blood.
Your Latin cues my Greek (language of Christian and conquered) and I reply:
“Smoke and mirror pharmakeia, man. Pharma, like in ‘drug.’
King James calls it ‘witchcraft’ and ‘sorcery’ of which
your crap-game numerology is a tool.”
You reply, “Yes! Yes it is!” Another shot brings:
“To magic, fire; and crap, here’s to smoking numbers!”
and to no one’s objection, we start burning ’em:
“Elvis was 3 when Robert died howling…”
“Subtract Johnson’s birth year, 1911 from Presley’s, 1935 and you get two-four: easy 6!”
“Subtract Robert’s death date, 1938, from Elvis’ 1977 you get three-nine: 12!
We have to call it boxcars!”
“Sweet mystery train! Add the 6 and 12, it equals 18! Three of six!”
“Or two rolls of nine!”
“But Elvis came in on 3, before Bob checked out –”
And we carry on until we laugh ourselves nearly straight.
Irony and coincidence.
Where some find a crap shoot of cause and effect,
you see a found poem, discovered
in a down beat history book written and recited by hellish spirits.
It’s a variation of the loose rhyme that has always been
whispered in the ears of prophets, schizophrenics, and druggies.
While studying our checkerboard, it sets in,
the complexity laid out for the unbalanced to unravel and
interpret as they will; either through the flight patterns of ravens
and crows, or the tracks of horse and cries muffled by snow
or in this case, dots on the dice.
In a booze-blues induced trance, I contemplate the phrase: “simple as black and white.”
If our board was black and white, we might not be
playing an unsophisticated game of checkers,
but the complex game of kings.
I concede, “You’re right, it’s not just numbers;
it’s also about words. After all, ‘In the beginning was The Word –”
“And all was starless and bible black, then came the blood red mediaeval devil!”
The juke box plays Los Bravos: “Black is black, I want my baby back…”
and I wax drunken philosophical,
“Written words, black on a white page, are one dimensional, but when read,
can evoke all three dimensions and trigger all five senses, like:
Taste – smooth Kentucky bourbon and sweet Lincoln processed Tennessee whiskey.
Touch – the heat of a Louisiana August, and the bodies resurrected after midnight, close
dancing, before Sunday morning returns them to dead.
Smell – the odor of working man’s sweat, and the scent of working girl’s perfume, and the
smoke of Kentucky grown weed, and Mississippi tobacco.
Hear – the sounds of a Fender Telecaster twanging out a rousing rockabilly riff,
or a Stella flat top, as it voices a finger picked blues scale
over a Gibson strummed chord progression,
and the growling howling screaming voices of the itinerant dark creatures:
high priests of low-lives, arrayed in their Friday-night Sunday best!
See them, on a night clear as southern moonshine, practice their sorcery!”
I know some who just don’t or won’t get it; they must have everything laid out in bible-black
and church-house-white. To those folks, I propose we open up that Sunday book
and leave it in the light of the Delta sun to bleach away every quote printed in red.
Now, close the cover, dark as death, and in the eclipse, see the religion:
booze, drugs, toil and blood – life
and death. A finality? Eventually,
even midnight gives way to predawn gray, then
You break my trance by adding,
“And so, for every verse written and sang, and every way traveled – foot and line,
from Mississippi, to Chicago, to New Orleans
by every guitar toting hobo dressed right for a Friday night;
I’ll raise one last toast:
To Elvis Presley and Robert Johnson,
red six and black nine: yin-yang American style!
And if you want an axle for this Ching-wheel,
both cashed out on the same day of the week,
as well as the same date of the same month,
I’m talkin’ Tuesday, August 16th!”
Now, you go on
and try to tell me the devil ain’t a poet.”
Fred R. Kane has been writing verse since he was 13. His major literary influences are the 1950s beat poets, the 1960s sf new wave, the 1970s Blue Oyster collective, the 1980s cyberpunks, and the 1990s speculative poets. Kane’s reputation for being a dark humorist was gained from his work in past issues of Necrotic Tissue, Morpheus Tales, and The Horror Zine.