Some of the music JumpJim describes hearing on his trip to buy old blues records with Chester Bly — a trip that has many unintended consequences.
Chester, knocking on doors, asking his monomaniacal question. Got any records? Under your porch, maybe? Pay a dime a piece.
Here are some of the records the two get hold of.
As the two leave Mississippi after Chester’s encounter with Miss Alberta, JumpJim hears a little boy singing the words “Pharaoh army sure got drownded.” This is from the spiritual “Mary, Don’t You Weep.” Why do you think Kunzru includes this song?
And on Seth’s own southern journey, tracing the footsteps of Chester Bly, he refers to this song.
Willie Brown, whose legendary (and lost) recording, Paramount 13099, “Kicking in My Sleep Blues” b/w “Window Blues.”
Address the following questions in a comment on this blog post:
- JumpJim and Chester’s “Southern journey” is an echo of the one taken by John and Alan Lomax in the 1940s. In the novel, Seth attempts to retrace their steps. Do you think that JumpJim, Seth, and the Lomaxes had similar motivations in embarking on these journeys? Or do their motivations differ? Explain. Make sure you use evidence from your reading to back up your argument.
- What does “Pay me what you owe me” mean in the context of this book? Do you think “pay me what you owe me” can be applied to the blues as a genre? Can it be applied to other genres of black music?
- Why does Hari Kunzru include 4 pages of the text “ha ha ha ha” repeated over and over towards the end of the book? (It is a reference to the “Negro Laughing Song,” sung by George W. Johnson, the first African-American to be recorded:
- The poet and critic Kalamu ya Salaam has said:
The Blues is dead because the soil that produced the blues either lies fallow or has been covered with concrete. However, the Blues sensibility, the impulse to rise above by declaiming just how tough times are, the laughing to keep from crying, the celebration of the transformatory power of violence — all of that is found in the Blues music of [our own time], which is, of course, Rap.
Do you agree? Explain.