In the spring, I started work on Sun Records, a “record company” that plays only visual music. It’s my homage to music, especially the blues, which has been such a transformative part of my life and of the planet’s too, I think. I spend a lot of time wondering about how we can get to that place of transformation and how to make art that might inspire happiness and peace, if possible. This is a very humble effort, of course, and one triggered by memory. No one listens to vinyl records any more but I love the idea that they were called “long playing” and that great music, or good messages, can just keep spinning around endlessly! There are 12 “albums” in the project.
Back in the seventies, when I was in my very early twenties, I was living in Montreal, an art and music imbued city. I loved rock music already but had only a vague notion of the blues. One day a love affair went awry and I was feeling like shit, just heartbroken and way down in the dumps. A friend of mine, in an act of great kindness, convinced me to go out that night and hear some blues. Howlin’ Wolf was in town and she said I’d be feeling better after hearing Wolf. I didn’t really believe her but went along anyway.
Howlin’ Wolf was one of the fiercest and most moving of blues singers; he howled and he raged. He did what a polite Canadian white girl couldn’t—he poured out his feelings with every fiber of his body. He raised his voice. He shouted and howled. He was already in his sixties the night I saw him and ill with kidney problems. That day, he and his band had driven all the way from Chicago in a couple of beat-up station wagons with all the instruments and amps squeezed in. The show started a bit late that night. When the band was warming up, Hubert Sumlin, Wolf’s great guitar player, stepped up to the mike to apologize for the tardy start. He smiled and said that they’d been driving all day and when they’d arrived they’d had to take Wolf to the Royal Victoria Hospital for a session of dialysis. He said the nurses were so kind to Wolf and the band was so grateful they’d taken such good care of him. He said that Wolf was a great man, still willing to give it his all even though he was ill and we should all give him a warm welcome, which we did. Shouts and howls went up with the applause.
Hearing this, seeing these people, feeling their good humor and grace in the face of such travails and hard travel, I felt my own sense of spirit open and my sadness loosen. Wolf then lumbered onto the stage, sat himself down on a stool and without a word began to play his guitar with an urgency that made your hair stand up. Twaaaaaaang. Over and over, so loud you couldn’t think. Then he started singing. Whatever blues I had that night, or had ever had, were cleansed by his singing. He carried our suffering away with his voice. You could almost see people lighten up as the night went on. We knew Wolf had suffered loss too, had failed at love, been cheated on, lost out. We knew he had money problems and broken health. That he was tired. We knew in a way that set us free that whatever we faced we are not alone, ever. And whatever sorrows we faced would pass as mine mostly passed that night absorbed by the sound of one man’s heart and history, and a whole race’s history. It gave me perspective, a chance to stand outside of myself and see a bigger picture.
Now this spring, lots of years later, I got the idea to do Sun Records. How or why ideas come, I can’t really explain, but as I get older I see that ideas that come to me encompass many aspects and learnings from the whole of my life. Nice to get older! When ideas for art or writing come to me, I try to do them straight away as I feel quite honored to receive them really. So, I began. But then all sorts of things happened in our lives here and in June, when I went away on a teaching gig, I had to leave the project half finished, alas.
This week I finally got to pick up where I left off. Of course, I am not quite the same person I was in June. Everything changes, us too, and I find I see things a little differently, draw a little differently and mostly, today, I’d lost my technical mojo in laying the type down. The technique I had going for me in June seems not to work as well in September. But tomorrow I go back to the studio keeping the faith that things will move along as they are meant to. So, almost there with Sun Records and a new idea has already arrived. Feeling very blessed.