The Amazing Emotive Power of Music.

Friday evening traveling south down Highway 6 along the Brazos River bottom. North of Bryan I pick up NPR and Terry Gross and a twenty-year-old interview with Sam Charters, the musicologist. He is talking about traveling the South as a white man during the middle of the twentieth century buying and recording the music of African Americans. In many Southern communities, the mere incident of a white outsider seeking black artists made them objects of suspicion for the local authorities. Charters is an old radical, but his account rings true. He even seems to understand that the cultural chasm was so wide and deep that he never really knew or truly connected with the people he recorded.

I am rolling by old towns, farmland and ancient houses that date back to when cotton was still king during the early twentieth century in Central Texas. As the echoes fly by me at seventy miles an hour, Charters tells the story of his re-discovery of Texas native, and blues legend, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins during the 1950s.

Lightnin' picks and moans:

Mmmmmmmmmm, the blues come down on me
Lord, have mercy, child
Po' Lightnin' can't hardly keep from cryin'
Yes, the blues'll make you cry, I know how you feel
Whoa, Lord have mercy,
po' Lightnin' can't hardly keep from cryin'
Well, I'm just wonderin' will I ever make it back,
to that old native home of mine?
Please, take me with ya when you go, Lightnin'
Lord have mercy

I know a lot of old white guys who will tell you that the way things were back then wasn't right, even as they remain frustrated with the way things are now. Too much freedom now and not enough responsibility.

Our racial history is depressing. Darkness moves over the rolling hills. Was every white person in the South a bastard?

Twenty-four hours later. Same piece of highway. On the way back home. Same country, different musical genre--but not unconnected: Hank Williams and Johnny Cash CDs provide the audio ambience inside my fuel-injected, climate-controlled, junior class SUV.

An oppressed and lost Alabama man moans the blues this time:

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

So many of the same problems. Perhaps they weren't monsters. The countryside is springtime green and bright again. I am headed north. Getting closer to home. Sam Charters, raised in a different culture, could not hope to understand the black experience down South back then. What about me? "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there" (L.P. Hartley). Can I ever hope to understand the complexity of race in my ancestral home?