Volume 26, Number 1

The Green Note

André Braga Cabral

“It was one cold winter night
When the winds blew across the wild moor
When Mary came wandering home with her child
Till she came to her own father’s door.
Father, dear father, she cried
Come down and open the door
The child in my arms will perish and die
From the winds that blow across the wild moor”

—Traditional folk song

I will rabbit on about Hundred Buck Billy, and this will be called the "The Green Note." Not supposed to be clever, and if clever anyhow, smartypants. Smartass. Pejorative.

Thing you must know about this Hundred Buck Billy is that he can fiddle with the acoustic guitar with his teeth, and if he must stroll in the electric side of things, well yeah, it's got to be symphonic [pejorative too], it's got to sound as a musty background to anything up in front, following an elusive frontman's cadences with deafening fuzz. I asked Billy what would be his weapon of choice for today, and he went: "This has gotta be it, just for this event," as he picked a Fender Jazzmaster from the arsenal. That put this narrative off the beaten track.

The Fender Jazzmaster is not your average instrument. I don't know what guitarists it was firstly made for, but it went through a curious process: resurrection. In the age of grandeur and Olympuses, the clean was the mean, which means the right guitar model would certainly be the whiteman-bluesy Gibson Les Paul: it was time for the Jazzmaster to be in deep slumber. But in the age of fuzz, the age before mine, the Jazzmaster, akin to the Jaguar, would be back, since it'd be perfect for rendering any guitar solo ugly. And it was perfect for making a bad soloist sound good. Uglily good. O, what becoming adjectives to the human heart: ugly & solo! Now I understand the idiom "to strike a chord with." Now I understand it in my own age. 

If this was not the 21st Century, Billy would be a farmer. Because now is now, Hundred is a platformer: jumped from citylife poverty to another citylife poverty when he got his good share of mooch and disappeared with it until it itself disappeared and made him reappear. Legend inside a fictional story (this story) has it that this fella jumped from near-misery to a relative stability because of a lifetime salary he got from his artistic achievements whatsoever. The last worldwide financial crisis, that which made you bray on your knees and lose trust in your own math, couldn't dent his pockets because of that damn grant! Not that I wish to ruin the character's life, but his luck puts me to a test: it canNOT be envy.

Katrina is Billy's toy. Yeah, the hurricane. Excuse my pesky playfulness: Art is a kind of toy, justified toy. There’s much Katrina in the academic rooms where Hundred demos horrific challenges to the human ear, all with the Jazzmaster he produces. This kind of production is the same as for a gun; allow me to bring the idea of firearm back. Men with justice in their hands produce their guns just as Billy does the guitar: accurately, and whose any activation could be a turning point to a life, the shooter's or the victim's or the shooter’s and the victim’s. In this one case, it is the victim's, the audience’s: they do not know how to judge “Katrina” properly. They’re stunned, but in an extremely positive way. That hurricane number is their new gem. [Is “Katrina” regarded as a gem due to its lack of soundalikes on Earth? Who’s to say? In fact, gems are only valuable due to their rarity and hard access. So this relation here to gems could be plausible.] There are tons of metallic knickknacks attached to the frets, and Billy has this little steel rod in the strumming hand, which he refers to as “the wand.” Yeah, he likes this allusion to magic; it keeps people on the edge of their seats when he describes his stuff that way. It instigates the same curiosity in the audience as gossip and beautiful lies. For Katrina to be summoned, Billy has to count on detuning. That reminds me of Lou Reed: so to express his ecstasy in the upbeat "I'm Beginning To See The Light," he intentionally and funnily goes way out of tune in a shriek. In "I Heard Her Call My Name" he does it again to follow the gung-ho quote-harmonies-unquote with superiority, as if he was telling the awkward music: "You're trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but you can't do it as a human being can, you can't do it like I do." For Billy, going out of tune is a result of the disastrous guidance of his art: he just puts a heavy rock on the gas pedal of an 18-wheeler and never minds the fact that the way has its turns, and not following the turns can mean the cliff. That's how one guides a Katrina: all you do is invoke it, then you forsake it. Forsaking a piece you’re playing only means you must conduct your music even more carefully than embracing it. Forsaking it means that you understand it so deeply that you let it be its own thing, you respect it and its life [!] but such an act disobeys any convention. Life, personality, future, all of them must disobey conventions. Hundred Buck Billy knows how to “forsake” his music with such masterful panache because that’s exactly how he came into this world: invoked and then freed at a time when too much freedom makes you cry, cry, cry. Mustering the hurricane is a prerogative that only Billy’s kind of hundred-buck can make for: Katrina is his sister of sorts; Kats, my dear. Sister stories, same lives. “Life is a blow,” an archetype of the modern architect for modern Brazil once said.

Regretfully so, now is now: What is the wave? What is the fashion? What is the way, the ways of these times? I could pick anything from any time I see fit and it won’t sound old: it’ll be fashionably vintage. This is where Billy is: not a rank, but a slot. Everything is leveled. He’s got a grant to create what he feels like, but nothing he puts out there will be avant or even repulsive (I mean the prophetic kind of repulsive. Yes, there is such a thing.). So must he play it cheap in order to be repulsive at the very least? Will he be repulsive simply by being clean and honest to his own as well as anyone else? Yes. Yes? Yes, I really mean it, the questioning finds its answer right there, that quickly. All you have to do to be repulsive is be an idiot to the fatuity of your times. That’s being “green,” but not the usual green of “emptiness,” of not being aware. It’s the green of virtue, of what you wish there was, of what you miss. This green wets the back of Billy’s ears. This green is stamped on many a flag of Middle-Eastern countries, in memory of what’s been replaced; in memory of what they never had, so it’s not memory, it’s a tribute to what’s been replaced, what’s been replaced in the whole world outside of them by what they have in abundance. I feel blackened by globalization, and I don’t care [intransitive], that’s why I’m such a jerk: Under this thick blanket of commercial-Xmas snow, where my whole body slowly necrotizes, my psyche keeps asking me why, why I do not call it “soul” instead of sidekicky “psyche” when I have the chance, in life.

In the traditional folk song that precedes this story, there are three characters: Mary, her child and her father. But the winds play a crucial part too. The cold of the winds in the song is the same coldness as Mary’s father’s, a father who refuses to open the door when his child (holding his grandchild) needs shelter. Which coldness is killing Mary: the winds’ or her father’s? [pause] You’ll have a hard time picking just one of the options. You’ll understand, in deep thought, that the weather’s coldness in the folk song simulates the father’s. In art, such as song lyrics, nature can be secondary to human nature: the latter is art’s lingua franca, regardless of its commitment to science. Would you allow me (and I’m asking even my own permission) to call this means of communication, with all its possible inaccuracies (name your standard), simply “soul?”

Perhaps, and this is just an opinion, perhaps Classical is mankind being enamored with the idea of neatness whose pillars are rules (where rules oughtn’t to be), and such an idea of neatness makes them feel pure for a while. Their purity activated in ideas such as Classical makes them not really pure, they can’t fool themselves: it makes them prudish, yes, prudish, to all the cacophony they’ve been through since.… This is a bad since. I’m scratching my head. I need a monument such as Ground Zero’s Memorial, a monument in the Western hemisphere, in order to concretize a particular genocide in my concern. I’ve over-misused the kind of mercy that obliviousness is.

* * *

Now I’ll move my eyes over to a record engineer. She’s twenty-nine, and she’s a she. It takes a lifetime to be good at what she does because the job has that “author” kind of authority to it. What brought her there was disillusionment with music, wherever it is entangled with business. Her approach to recording is the same as her mother’s to knitting: she’s a bit too careful, obsessive with detail and all for the lowest price in town. In fact, if she sees that the band coming to her can’t afford too much, she cuts down on her work’s budget and, better still, keeping the fastidiousness, as if it were for some whopping cash. In her mind, keeping the price low gives her freedom to do what she wants, the way she wants. You’ll ask me her name because you’d want to marry her if you’re a male and cool, so here it is: North Bilinda, with a geographic conundrum to it, which recalls a Dylan song that regards a woman with that kind of enigma: “I got a woman in Jackson, oh I ain’t gonna say her name.”  North Bilinda is, as some say, where it’s at, owner of a little place where she both lives and works, a place where the drums sound colossal, and that’s pretty much the bomb to a small-timer, because if there’s an instrument that hardly juts out of an indie record and its ultra-thin sonics, I’ll tell you it is the drums.

North Bilinda feels she’s too old for the game already, the music thing, that’s why she sticks to authorship, now in the most relevant meaning of the word: she structures and composes stuff, mind-twisting stuff like mini-operas that have intermissions of Spoken Word. Even though she’s not a virtuoso on what she plays, she can play almost anything fairly enough, but as for the drums, that’s what she shines on effortlessly. She practiced the drums almost every week day in her teens, but there was never a band for her to jam with. Hanging with some rock guys made for some hideous moments, especially when she tried to teach them how to play the songs she had in her head, and they had to be “executed correctly;” I hate that verb, I hate that adverb, “…but that’s me,” Bilinda tells me. She regrets destroying the idea of a band, “…not that I DO regret, a bit yes, a bit no,” just as she regrets once having tried to “rock.” Let’s say in unison, Bilinda: three, two, one: I hate that verb!!

* * *

Mini-operas are not the icing on the cake of a well-known pub’s Saturday night. Yes, I’ve just rushed this text to a different situation and place. The place I’ll regard is the mentioned popular pub, and what’s already going down while I localize your imagination is an overture of one of Bilinda’s crafts. She’s starting out her number with a drum solo. How good is this? I mean, for how long? Then she moves to the electric piano, and the libretto she’s so carefully written starts lolling out of her mouth, a bit lazily, with the opposite of stage fright. The artistic value in all she created herself is hard to judge, I’m no expert, but I know she is doing something, it is really happening. Truth is that a pub is a wrong place for that, a total waste of her craftsmanship. To anyone around me, [I’m at the pub,] Bilinda’s number is a treatise, musically. It has to end, and so it does. There’s thin applause.

Now that must be a roadie, that guy on stage. He’s plugging cables to chunky pedals, bringing some other Marshall stacks, positioning them in a curious way around the pub’s own Orange amplifiers. I think he knows what he’s doing. It takes him a while in these adjustments. All that stuff is connected to one guitar, and it’s such a mess up there in front I could smell short-circuit. He picks a microphone: Okay. This which I’ll play is ‘Kats.’ Just don’t throw bottles or any kind of glass at me, even if you must. Hey-hey-hey. These here which I’ll recite are the lyrics Kats cannot have, cannot guide. If I don’t recite them separately from the music, you simply won’t hear them. [pause] It reads “Winds do not feed off anything. [pause] Some of them might wish to swallow you with more immediate a wish than lust. But winds do not eat anything. They peel, they skin, they shred, they separate: unite in circles, take you for a peek at the third sky. You fall back down and die in pieces, but it’s the earth who drinks your blood. Winds do not need anything.” He turns the mic off, perhaps because it could interfere in his desired sound. The roadie is no roadie, I see, you see. He crashes silence with an electric whistle from the amplifiers, like it was unintended and a mistake. The thing he conducts with playing and while playing on his own empties the pub, except for Bilinda (and three other people, blurry to my myopic narrative eyes). She endures it, loud as it is, because that beast up there is a new addition to her taxonomy, and what an avid researcher she is[!]. He does not notice her because he’s forever gazing at his own shoes. Bilinda feels her ears won’t take another number of his, so she quickly butts in on the shy guy’s dialogue with his noise and whatever it is he’s preparing to play next.

“Hey. Hey, I know that giving names away is not something particularly cool (she understood his introspection), but, well …”

“Your lyrics are good” he surprisingly interrupts her. “I’m Hundred Buck Billy.” (He only introduced himself because he saw genuine interest from her. He values such thing a lot.)

She laughs, very kindly and discreetly. “Wow, that’s some name.… Mine is weirder: North Bilinda. My dad would’ve named me Billy too, if I’d been born a boy. About the ‘North’ thing, it’s for real, not a moniker…[He says nothing.] Fine, then, Billy, I won’t trouble you any further. I’m leaving now.”

“So am I.” (He changed his mind about resuming the gig. He feared that doing something wrong in a following piece of music could hurt his reputation, even though there was no crowd by then, only the people working at the pub. That kind of reputation is not in the least related to what people think of him: it is about his opinion of himself, which oscillates constantly and can only be justified by a close relationship with the sound of the last number he has played. If he tries but fails to communicate with what he’s playing, he feels as if everything that’s good about him is gone. Such reaction is very extreme and oftentimes triggers depression.)

They each unplug their instruments and amplifiers without saying any more words, while the pub only receives the synths from its neighborhood … but I see some people coming in, look, other people! Bilinda realizes that and rushes to the microphone stand. She thinks she can make up for the harsh reception to Hundred’s work.

“Wait just a minute, Billy. I know our stuff is almost completely packed, but I must say these words, just as you said yours, without music, just spoken word. It has a lot to do with the kind of music you play, so would you please hang on for a minute?”

“All right. I mean, thanks,” he replies so low it is almost to himself. 

Bilinda, with a newfound sense of purpose, now has the spark-over-beauty charisma of June Carter Cash as she gently talks the crowd-in-the-making into listening:

“Ah, yeah, I’ve heard it on the grapevine that a certain boy with a guitar (she peeks at Billy and blinks an eye) ain’t caught anyone’s ears these days. Not even mine[!]: last time and the only time I heard him play, it was as if I was using a jumbo’s turbine as my hairdryer. [Most people in the pub laugh, which makes those distracted at first pay her some mind.] “I tend to hate stuff I don’t understand, but this one boy played something good. It just wasn’t something I’d been prepared for. I have a piece of writing on my mind for this occasion. It is titled ‘Against Labeling,’ jotted down by another friend of mine who likewise rocked my socks back in the day…yeah. Here it goes:

[There is considerable silence.]

We’re just too good to allow for impropriety. Especially if it’s the sort of impropriety that makes our conception of ‘too good’ sound bad, sound evil. Any personification of this impropriety should be condemned. If we don’t deserve him/her, which we really don’t, really won’t, and he/she persists on the crazy idea of giving us crazy-good stuff, we’ll feel indebted, which will make us sleepless, Why do you refuse to take our money[?], It’s all we’ve got to give, Don’t you see you’re ruining our whole system[?], This is unfair to the point it is, it is, it is unrighteous! Ha! We caught you red-handed, you’re ruining our lives. We’ll sue you for that. We’ll prosecute you for that. You’re a criminal. You’re not allowed to exist. ‘File erasure’ is technically a subtle way of washing our hands of someone, and by ‘washing our hands’ I’m being even linguistically subtle, about murder. And when he/she dies a criminal’s death (contrived as it seems!), what’s left of our conscience won’t take it lightly: it will be the noise-plus-confusion of getting used to the idea that we’re executioners, and there’s nothing too bad about it, man, it’s just rock’n’roll, baby-baby-baby, that’s what I’m talking about, dude; my earphones are banging in my ears, making me deaf to the moans and entreaties of these people who put commas in “I came I saw I conquered,” slowing me down, making me kinda think about my actions for one millisecond a comma, making me kinda think that this stream of words actually started including you guys too. Amid all of this, there’ll be a wee voice telling us we’re trying too hard to harden. Good thing is—really good thing, I’m not being sarky—that when he/she dies, he/she won’t have to fit anywhere anymore. Form and land formed man, and man forms form and land, and form and land are all man knows how to know, on repeat. ”

The applause that ensues is considerable as well, to which she dares take Hundred by his right hand to take a bow. He looks at her, reluctant, but quickly takes a bow too. “A scene that celebrates itself” is merely that which I’m seeing now, as I observe both the characters I’ve created, together just for once, for minutes: a chance created by chance, the stars cleaning up the mess after the gig, me documenting a story I wish I really witnessed.