The blues I’m referring to are not a giant saltwater fish. They’re a form of musical expression that I find quite useful for moving beyond a disappointing and even frightful political season this November. In a moment or two I’ll tell you more about my recent reentry to the blues…
Earlier in the week, my daughter reminded me of trying to catch the rise of the “Super Moon” as she was headed toward the easternmost point of U.S. territory at Point Udall on the island of St. Croix. I don’t know if she was able to enjoy that moonrise or not, but given the standard weather picture in the Caribbean, I suspect she had a good time with it.
I climbed the local ridge in the hope of seeing the “Super Moon” or some variation of it, but found only another fabulous cloud blanket in the east. Undefeated, I turned my attention 180 degrees westward and found sweet consolation in the sun that melted down brilliantly through this bluesy life on earth…
My wife emailed me at work to say that on Friday night she was taking me on a date to a secret location whether I wanted to go or not. This sounded pretty good to a guy who’s been happily chained to marriage for more than three whole decades. We went out to dinner in Corning and I still didn’t know where we were headed, but soon enough we found ourselves at an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll/blues venue called the Clemens Center in Elmira, New York.
I’d heard of Big Head Todd and the Monsters but had never listened to their music before. Here was the rock band along with special guests, the blues great, Mud Morganfield (the eldest son of legendary Muddy Waters), plus Billy Branch, who played with the Willie Dixon band, plus Ronnie Baker Brooks (phenomenal guitarist and son of Chicago blues master, Lonnie Brooks), and Erica Brown (“Denver’s Queen of the Blues”) on vocals and dance. It was a shake-out performance of the Big Head Blues Club in “Way Down Inside: the Songs of Willie Dixon.”
I’ve long been a fan of Dixon, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, from the days of “Spoonful” Cream and Led Zeppelin on back to the glorious mid-century hits created by Willie, the “poet laureate of the blues.”
And the beautiful Clemons Center, with its gold-leaf details and reconstructed opera boxes, rocked.
And even this stoic old rambler twitched and shook “way down inside,” as well as through his blue extremities. His wife deserved more than a kiss for hauling him to Elmira at the end of a bloody long week.
The next day I rebounded with a fly rod, seeking asylum as the gun season for deer in New York and bear in Pennsylvania exploded into action. I knew I could find safety on Fall Creek, the brown trout and landlocked salmon water flowing through the heart of Ithaca, New York.
It was a gorgeous Saturday morning but the creek was low and exceptionally clear, and the fish were simply uninterested in flies, no matter what I offered. Four hours of fruitless casting transpired before the western sky darkened to the color of an ugly bruise, and before the fish finally turned on.
Then the waters rocked like the fiery guitar play and soulful singing of Ronnie Baker Brooks at the Clemens Center. I thought of Brooks’ January 2013 gig, playing with Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, and Lonnie Brooks at a Presidential Inaugural event honoring President Obama. I made a long 50-foot cast of the Woolly Bugger at a group of fish, rather than the short precise casting I’d been doing all morning, and a landlocked salmon snapped it up as if it represented the last bit of grub on Earth.
An onlooker standing on the bridge above my head was asking excited questions and distracting me from getting a good picture, but that was okay. We’ve all seen nice pictures of fish before. The pace was changing and I would soon land several more landlockeds, a version of Atlantic salmon averaging 20-inches long in Fall Creek and known for its head-shaking and airborne fighting demeanor.
So, the storm blew in, a cold front emerged full-tilt boogie. The wind became ferocious. The air was filled with leaves and falling branches; the creek was a flowing carpet of leafy debris. I humped for the vehicle as the rain cranked into hail and snow, and as the air temperature plummeted.
It was time to be thankful for getting back, for the good in life, for each moonrise and sunset, for our friends and family, for making peace…