Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I Be's Troubled.

The blues belonged to a whole culture, one that sang spirituals and worksongs, that juked on “Sadys” and prayed on Sundays, that did the shout and the shimmy, that told tall tales and true stories, that conjured with black cat bones and mojo, too, that wore red flannel and bore children at home, that improvised the dozens and signified with marvelous verbal dexterity, and that survived poverty and oppressive racism, famine and flood. The Delta blues bore the fruit of its origins, simultaneously secular and sacred, American and West African.

“I Be’s Troubled” (.mov stream)

Well [if] I feel tomorrow
Like I feel today,
[I’m] gonna pack my suitcase
And make my getaway
Lord, I’m troubled, I’m all worried in my mind
And I never been satisfied,
And I just can’t keep from cryin’.

...“I Be’s Troubled” combined the obvious theme of loss and sorrow, in this case of a lost love, and evoked the familiar spiritual idea of troubles (“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Had”) with that of movement (“Trabelin’ On”). Songs about spiritual and physical weariness, about being troubled and wanting to travel beyond the present, nurtured the blues. Even the syntax of the title, “I Be’s Troubled,” revealed the song’s cultural heritage. Many West African languages and the African-American creolized Gullah have not distinguished between past and present in some verb usage. For example, “slaves indicated habitual actions, past or present, by using be plus the action verb, as . . . ‘you orter be carry money with you.’” In this way, “I Be’s Troubled” could also be understood as “I was troubled for some time,” rather than a simple grammatical mistaking of ‘be’ for ‘am.’ “I Be’s Troubled” stretched out the action and emphasized the temporal, enduring quality of suffering. And, as Muddy Waters added, the only cure for suffering was leaving...

In 1948 Muddy Waters recorded “I Be’s Troubled” for Aristocrat Records in Chicago, under the title “I Can’t Be Satisfied" (mp3). An artifact of the Great Migration of African Americans to Chicago, it reflected Waters’ altered perspective from the south to the north, of someone who had already “skipped off.”

Well, I’m goin’ away to leave
Won’t be back for more
Goin’ back down south, child
Don’t you want to go.
Woman I’m troubled, I be all worried in mind
Well baby I just can’t keep be satisfied
And I can’t keep from cryin’.

Muddy Water’s first version, “I Be’s Troubled,” had documented the world of plantation sharecropping from which the 28-year-old McKinley Morganfield had not yet been able to “pack my suitcase and make my getaway.”


NOTE: check out many other fascinating .mov streams, some with interviews, at this Brown University URL: http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Music/Streaming/MU9/.

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