John Lee Hooker was right.
Every Friday night, Darcey would podcast a blues show – Friday Night Blues and Beer at the Broom, as one small part of his political and personal website.
At first I did not know about the blues show. I posted political opinions about other people’s opinions about prevailing opinions and counter-opinions, but I did not care about my own opinions, because I was busy being fatalistic, and then one day I used my Parkinson’s “condition” as an example of something - health care in Canada or something opinionated, and at about three o’clock in the morning there was a message on my computer and it said “John Lee Hooker was right.”
An answer to a question? What was the question? It became part of the game to talk to each other entirely in quotations from Blues songs, and to seek Blues Advice when the Johnny Walker Wisdom ran out.
And my incurable disease was discussed in dance: a blues song about walking in a dead man’s clothes followed by Screamin’ J. singing about doing an oil portrait of a man and then realizing, when painting his eyes, that this man was near death, followed by B.B. King saying he wanted to give up living and go shopping instead, followed by songs of great joy and a lust for life. It’s a good day to die, a good day to live. Darcey got me addicted to the Blues.
John Lee Hooker was right. As an old man, with a lifetime of experience, he boiled it down to its essence, a few words, stating something very important that he himself had experienced and that he had witnessed in other people:
Blues is a healer
All over the world
The blues healed me
It can heal you too
If you let it
John Lee Hooker was not being poetic. He was not being romantic. He was not making a metaphor, an allegory, a simile, or a parable. He was not boasting about the power of the artform that he devoted his life to.
He was stating a fact.
He was stating a plain, simple fact. And he knew what he was talking about. Blues is a healer. He was alerting us to a fact.
And today, scientists are investigating how that works. How is it that some people who cannot walk, can get up from their wheelchairs and dance? There is no longer any question about what John Lee Hooker said. He was right. The question now is to find out why he was right.
Okay, so you’ve got John Lee Hooker on your side.
I suppose Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters all contributed to your anti-Parkinson’s story as well, right?
John Lee Hooker said where to look for a cure and Darcey went searching for the spirit of Robert Johnson and met Buddy Guy who inspired him to record the Blues with Muddy Waters harp player who got Parkinson’s and then when I got Parkinson’s Darcey sent all the Blues in my direction and I wrote about it on Darcey’s site and then a scientist from Beijing with research projects in Calgary and Shanghai came to my house in rural Quebec and we put on Darcey’s blues and danced for him and he showed us some of his research that shows that the cure for PD lies in that direction which is a good thing because in his country there are 30 million people with the disease and we are going to eliminate this disease from the face of the earth.
This kind of thing happens all the time.
In a beehive, all the bees follow exactly the same pattern. The ones who gather the pollen fly to the same places every day. But there are a few bees who fly off in completely new directions. And thereby discover new sources of pollen. They appear to be rebels, disobeying the rules, but in fact the bees that go off in new directions are essential to the survival of the species, because they are the pathfinders for the future.
If you were growing up in northern Manitoba, what path do you think you would have taken? What would you have become?
Darcey first read the complete works of Rudyard Kipling (something like 28 volumes), and then learned to play guitar day and night from the age of 13; playing in bands with Shere Khan and other friends, in an area with a half-dozen Indian reservations. Looking out at the crowd you could sometimes see three or four fist fights going on at the same time. Beer covered the floor. Young nubile Indians girls were handed around like joints. One of the people involved got in seven knife fights, receiving nine knife wounds, yet winning most of the fights as the others were even more wounded.
Now, one knife fight happens to everybody. Who among us has not been in a knife fight? And two knife fights is not a big deal. Three knife fights - maybe you should be more careful. But seven knife fights? Seven? Maybe there’s a pattern there. To an outsider, it looked like these guys would end up in prison, just another aboriginal statistic. Not to blame the victim or anything – of course it was always self-defence – but seven knife fights before you are old enough to get a driver’s licence is a worrisome pattern. Then the Blues took control.
Sometimes just being able to see the pattern helps you to avoid getting trapped in it, becoming Apathetic in prison, and having all the life sucked out of you by the beast. Some prisons have walls; some do not. And Parkinson’s is not the only thing that can take away what you need most, what makes you the person you are. Parkinson’s is not the only condition that can ruin your life. So when you see someone break free from the death-grip of a beast, pay attention. The bee that finds a new pathway is essential to our survival.
Darcey and Shere’s group were playing heavy metal, moving towards head-banging music. And there were some favorite anthems such the one where the guitars sound like cats being killed with chain saws and the drums sound like gunfire and the band screams at the audience: “Thieves and liars! Thieves and liars!” That’s a bit of First Nation heritage that the CBC chose not to show. You should wonder why. (We take you back now to Ottawa where Constitutional talks continue… blah blah blah)
And so what happens next to these head-bangers? Want to hazard a guess? What would you have done? Well, Darcey, from one day to the next, decides to leave the native communities of northern Manitoba and go to the United States on a spiritual quest searching for the soul of the Blues, specifically the spirit of Robert Johnson, the blues genius.
A spirit quest – a young Metis from northern Manitoba following the spirit of a black American musician who died 70 years ago. You could not make that up. A committee would never agree to it. A government agency would never comprehend it. Yet it is that kind of thing – freedom, personal decisions, serendipity, new pathways opening new doors – it is that kind of thing that brings about outbursts of creativity, and solutions to ancient problems.
As so he ends up in California and meets Buddy Guy, whose influence is so powerful that Darcey goes out and buys a Les Paul, a Strat and a Tele, plays guitar 12 hours a night, leaving blood stains from his lacerated fingers, writing his own blues songs, buying state-of-the-art equipment for his own recording studio, and launching CD’s.
And jamming with a harp player who used to play harp in Muddy Water’s band in Chicago.
And then the harp player got Parkinson’s. And guess what Parkinson’s did to him? It took away his ability to play music.
Darcey moved back to Canada. And he brought it all back home. An entire cultural heritage, more blues than we ever knew existed. Something like 3,000 recorded hours of blues, 16,000 songs. And I get bombarded with whatever part of it Darcey thinks I should get next, so in effect the red man is delivering the black man’s music to the white man, to fix the obvious hole in his head.
I always had that feeling, that the Indians were observing us and then just waiting for a few centuries, and one day they will be back in charge. But I never anticipated that when young black Americans veered into gangsta rap, promoting cop killing and bitch slapping, that the entire catalogue of American blues, ignored by a black generation in revolt, would be kept alive by Canadian aboriginals. And there it is: Darcey’s weekly radio show is the best blues show anywhere; there is a weekly television show called Rez Bluez, an hour per week of Canadian Indian blues musicians, there are at least 30 Indian blues bands ready for prime time, there are small villages with their own blues bands, there are more blues musicians per capita among Canadian Indians and Metis than anywhere else, and Darcey has preserved 16,000 songs from the black American descendants of 300 years of brutal slavery – music that points at beauty and healthy sexuality and heartfelt visions of the world.
Some say it is the drums - the drums of Africa and of the Blues and of Indian dances and of the human heartbeat. Some say the outsiders recognize the music of other outsiders. Some say it’s simply that the Blues speaks most clearly to the human condition, to love and life and birth and death and man and woman. It’s simply that native people recognize great art when it touches them.
Many native people are capable of belief. When we say that music and dance can cure Parkinson’s, they find that very, very easy to believe. They are not surprised. They are capable of faith. And rather than talk about it, they just do it.
The Blues rest in the open palm of your hand. Free to go, free to return. Reminding you of what you always knew, but had stopped paying attention to. Reminding you to see with the heart, and to dance with a lust for life.
So if you want to talk about the 28 volumes of Rudyard Kipling, or 16,000 blues tracks, you know where to look. I don’t even want to guess what else they are hiding on the Reservations. They have probably revived the Latin language and re-calculated the Aztec measurement of time, and spend most of their time rehearsing Chinese opera. That would not be much more extreme that what I just went through.
John Lee Hooker was right. We were just a bit slow in paying attention to what he said. As Darcey says, when someone is pointing at the moon, do not stare at his finger.