2008 Star Crossed/Rad Racing GP Cyclo-Cross from sam smith on Vimeo.
Scott Keller at the excellent 'cross blog, Mud & Cowbells, has a great writeup of what it's like to race at Cross Vegas. He is normally an elite master racer (FasterGeezer class) but rocked the Elite race at Interbike this year, and as a reward got to spend part of his Cherry Blast in UCI C1 wheelsucking... I dunno. Some guy who rides for this new team, "Unaffiliated." Never heard of them though you see that team represented pretty heavily in Cat 5 roadraces. But this dude Scott is riding behind looks familiar. Used to date Paris Hilton or one of the Olson twins or something.
I know who that is. It's Zack, Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved by the Bell, right? I heard he'd taken up roadracing and became a Cat 2, but I didn't know he'd taken up 'cross too.
Way to go, Zack!
Care for a little blues? I do. Have a little Robert Johnson, "Crossroad." Listen to this and understand you're looking at the source of the river. There may have been music before this, but in a lot of senses, all the modern music we listen to is connected to this guy. Before this there was what we call classical today, and there were the pop tunes of the era. Most of that music was in a major key, harmonic, and focused on hitting the notes in time to meter. The music was judged by how well it stuck to a predictable script, and the most delectable of the music - Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach, and so forth - was judged by its ability to construct an extremely complex yet precisely ordered, disciplined script. Listen to Bach for a half minute and you know where the piece is going. The playing of notes slightly off-time, or skipping them here and there to draw you in, a change in the middle of a song from one melody to something totally different and seemingly unrelated musically as part of a story - not as a little twist in a piece but as the main melody - that was revolutionary.
There had been some other exotic stuff floating around in America - Negro spirituals, some African or Asian music, heavily Celtic-influenced bluegrass. There was also some interesting stuff floating around Europe at the time - Celtic/gypsy music, middle-eastern influence music - - but that blues stuff was its own genre. Ragtime and Jazz were growing up at the same time, and they cross-pollinated with the Delta Blues, maybe they grew up in a little incestuous family down in the deep, deep rural mid-South. But blues didn't wear a tuxedo with jazz or go to the races with swing. Instead it grew up in the juke joints and the little shanties that the black working men and women frequented, to forget about their hard lives in the Jim Crow South, to cut loose for a few hours.
B.B. King talks in his autobiography about how he'd sneak up next to a juke joint in his town on a Saturday night just to listen. Don't over glorify the life - it was tough; children weren't allowed in the juke joint, it was a grownup place where bad things like knife fights sometimes happened, but the next generation of bluesmen like King would sit outside the window and listen to the music, transfixed. B.B. King talks about how the blues spoke to him, and he couldn't stop listening.
He's not alone. That's the magic of the blues. While jazz speaks to our higher nature - you can only understand jazz if you understand music well enough to understand classical, because you need to know how the note *should* be played, to understand the script well enough to anticipate what comes next in the normal scheme of things. Otherwise, you really can't appreciate a brilliant improvisation. It's like basketball - if you understand the three man weave on a fast break and know the ball should be passed left with a chest pass, but then the guy in the middle passes right behind-the-back, throwing the defense while the guy on the right wing pulls up for a 5 foot jumper - you appreciate the play a lot more. Blues speaks directly to your purely human physical nature. You may not consciously know what note a bluesman will hit next but your foot damn sure knows how to keep time, probably without you having to tell it.
The raw emotion in a lot of blues lyrics, honest lyrics coupled with raw music, is potent as well. It speaks to heartbreak, to losing a job, to the death of a friend, to leaving home, to being isolated and alone. Modern tragedy tends to be minor compared to the stuff people lived through during the great depression, especially when you take segregation into account - but if you've been done really really wrong you know *exactly* what B.B. King means when he says, "I've been downhearted baby, ever since the day you left." A Wynton Marsalis instrumental can sort of say it, but the jazz version is sitting around in a chair thinking deep thoughts about it. "What about all those fine feelings of heartbreak?" The blues version is sitting at the bar with a couple buddies, looking at your drinks, and you say you miss the woman and you're pissed, and they don't ponder what you're feeling, they *know,* and order another round. Because it communicates directly and honestly, the blues genre connects very squarely with us. It puts out raw emotions and thoughts for you to look at and doesn't ask what you think, it just says, "there it is." There isn't a lot of ambiguity about shooting a man dead in Memphis and getting hanged for it, or for your woman leaving with your best friend. There it is... deal with it. Maybe if you tapped your foot and had some whiskey and just got it off your chest, you'd feel better.
B.B. King is a direct musical offspring of Robert Johnson, as are Muddy Waters, Robert Cray, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Link Wray, James Brown, and a couple tens of millions of other people who play blues, rock, soul, funk, and some types of hip hop. Today's pop - and yesterday's - wouldn't have been possible but for the Delta Blues musicians who took spirituals and chanties and bluegrass and the rudimentary jazz of the day, and maybe even some creole sound, and fused it into a raw, lukewarm-shot-of-bourbon-in-a-fingerprint-smeared-glass sort of sound that is uniquely American.
Crossroad is one of Robert Johnson's signature pieces. Listen to this song and understand it's the Model T, the Wright Brothers' first plane, a Little Boy and Fat Man dropped on a musical scene that had become banal and stale after the last great wave of classical composers in the late 19th century. It went to the places that ragtime and N'awlins jazz and the mild swing of the era, coronettist Bix Beiderbecke and the great Louis Armstrong, tamed down for the mass consumption of genteel folk and the mild tastes of the age, could not go.
As for rumors that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroad and sold his soul to the devil to be able to play that way... well, I don't know. Blues speaks to man's fallen nature in a way other types of music can't touch. It doesn't bemoan the Garden of Eden story, it looks at Eve and says, "well, even though we ain't in the Garden no more, you're naked, I'm naked, and we standin' here, and I don't have work tomorrow, so..." If the rumor about Johnson isn't true, it should be.
And while we're at it, it's a 'cross weekend. Let's have a little Lightnin' Hopkins, "Lonesome Road." Think about this song when you're pounding up that long gravel road at Ed Sander, in between the group you just got dropped from and the group trying to catch you.
One last bit of Lightnin' Hopkins. "Baby Please Don't Go."