The Mississippi River borders the Bywater, and the boat horns blow through the day and night.  David Threnody heard one calling as he turned that corner and saw what he saw.  People of his own kind, and not black and not necessarily musically inclined, but dressed as he was dressed, their politics like a sign on their foreheads—hipsters after the war, bohemians—those poor patrons of the arts.  They were his people, but Johnny Tribout was about the only friend he had, even though he’d made a lot of friends, casual acquaintances, fellow musicians that he could sit in with, that could sit in with him, and that knew the timing—knew when to play and when not to, knew what notes and chords would sound good with his, and that didn’t need liner notes for the songs, that didn’t need hints to the lyrics.  They could sing them when he didn’t want to.  They could sing them with him at a pitch that conjoined with his voice.  But even with all this, with people that understood his music—he still felt alone.  He was still haunted with the sounds of a roadhouse in Mississippi before the war.  The scenes of it played in his mind reel of war memories, mixed with the sounds of mortars and planes above with their whistle of dropping bombs, bullets whizzing by, the screams of wounded men.  And he couldn’t understand.  He couldn’t understand how no one heard it but him.  How no one heard Rosie Soledad’s gay laughter as she moved in a red dress, in slow motion as it were, to the slide of his guitar amped inside that sweat and smoke of a roadhouse, that stage he went on where he made a deal, a deal where everything else about him disappeared but that guitar he held in his hands, everything gone but his lips close to that transduced electricity of a microphone carrying his voice…

Maybe he felt he gave it everything—I don’t know.  His eyes said it after a song.  And when we’d take five he’d sip his whiskey and wipe the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief, and if he smiled at all it was when the distortion went out.  When the distortion went out of the speakers as we laid our instruments to rest…  I have some pictures.  Pictures of him taken during that first recording session.  Taken over his shoulder as he sat perched on a stool, the strap of his guitar turned so it was hanging on his back.  He’d sit perched there with his hand under his chin, a cigarette dangling between his fingers, beads of sweat noticeable on his temples, his eyes lidded as he listened to the playback from the sound recording booth.  And I remember seeing him there sitting under that hanging microphone, listening.  But it wasn’t as solemn as it seemed.  For I have other pictures of him in the sound booth resting on his crossed arms, his mouth hidden and only his face above his nose showing.  His mouth hidden, but he was saying something to another member of the band, and the shot captures them laughing, that first breakout of laughter passing across their face as they hear whatever it was he was saying.  Perhaps a comment on the playback.  A comment on one of his songs.  You see them laughing, but all you have of him is his eyes and they are serious—like they’re not even there, but lost in the music that the picture does not capture, lost in the laughter he’d instilled in another…  I think he was afraid of something.  Afraid of the silence.  Like he knew the eloquence of it.  The eloquent voice of silence.  And if he didn’t have a song to sing.  If he didn’t have its looping playback—he would be lost in it.  Lost in the silence.  And all the hipsters that congregated then in that time.  The street bohemians playing for change on all the corners we turned—they weren’t his friends.  They weren’t friends to him even though they were the people he had the most in common.  They weren’t on the other side of the argument, but he was making no argument, and I think he knew what their response would be—what their response would be to his music.  He fought them not for their like or dislike of his songs.  He fought them for their silence to it.  And even though I was a friend I could see he was haunted by the loneliness of it.   In what he gave to his music, and at what cost it seemed to him.  He let everybody in with it, and because of this no one could come in—no one was really inside it with him.  And the one friend he wanted.  The one friend he wanted to let inside didn’t love him….  Maybe it was a girl—I don’t know—a girl from his past.  Maybe it was a girl that had loved him, but didn’t love him no more, and that was the one love, the only love he wanted.  He wanted to earn that love and have that love because he had some memory of that love being taken away, and that was it—that was what was in every song of his.  What maybe made them timeless—how everything got in but the one thing he wanted to let in.  It’s what made them haunting and sad—what made them The Blues—you know?  And The Blues was his business…

–Johnny Tribout, from a PBS interview, September 1971

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