In lieu of pinching myself awake again this morning, or telling my zombie face in the mirror that it is not a dream, I am spinning a rather terrific copy of The Ben Webster Quintet's 1957 record, Soulville. Like Charles Mingus's Blues & Roots, which would follow two years later in the watershed year of 1959 (Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and John Coltrane's Giant Steps not to mention J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye would arrive within months of it, as would the Day the Music Died) it stands--especially in hindsight, on the precipice between an old orthodoxy and a new folk awakening.
For the most part the soul of Soulville speaks in balladry--the songwriting credits go to Oscar Hammerstein, Walter Donaldson, Harold Arlen, Vincent Youmans. And of course there's Webster himself, who seems, it occurs at a single listen to that title track, to be sitting on the stoop, looking out over his new Midwest and effortlessly greeting a new blues. It's sentimental stuff, a lot of it. But it's the way it speaks, more individual and human than before, less America, more an American. Which long way round make it America.
Over the next few days and weeks you're going to grow sick of hearing it's great to be alive and did you cry...well yeah. Joy.
Earlier this morning a friend emailed me a list of things the average person might not know about President-Elect Barack Obama. One of them was that the movie, Do the Right Thing was the first movie he and Michelle saw on a date. I can see them sitting on the couch together that evening. A little nervous. I picture her making the first move, but only later. Hours would go by. That's a heavy movie. Maybe he'd get up to get them each a glass of water, and when he would reappear he'd deadpan: D, Motherfucker, D! They would laugh and history would eventually take place.