I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget the first time I heard R.L. Burnside’s “Bad Luck City”.It was while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was camping, and listening to whatever college radio station broadcasts out of Asheville, NC. Or did broadcast. Do college radio stations broadcast anymore, or do they just stream now?Anyway, that song grabbed me by the throat. I’d never heard anything like it. In retrospect, I think he was doing something pretty similar to Gil Scott-Heron, but I’d never heard Gil Scott-Heron in my 20’s, and so I didn’t make the connection back then.If you haven’t heard R.L. Burnside’s music, the following album cover will convey the feel of his music pretty well, but in visual form:College radio–in Bethlehem, PA this time–is also how I belatedly discovered Bill Withers’ “Use Me”. That’s another song that totally grabbed me by the throat. The sparse, driving, funky arrangement was totally addictive.If you haven’t heard this song, the following Wikipedia description manages to suck every drop of life out of it:
The singer complains about the advice of friends, who seem to have made it “their appointed duty” to talk the singer out of a romantic relationship that they see as one-sided, and where the singer is “used”. But the singer has no doubt in wanting things to continue as they are, and implies that it is pleasurable enough to be “used” in that fashion that being “used up” completely would be welcome.The singer goes on to describe telling a relative who urges resistance to being “walked on,” that envy for the singer’s circumstances would follow from really comprehending them.The singer admits that some of the lover’s behavior is abusive—for example, snubbing him when with those of higher status. Finally, as the song fades out, the singer admits to being used, but says that “it ain’t too bad the way you’re using me, ’cause I sure am using you to do the things you do.”
I’m trying to imagine the person or group of people who wrote that description of ‘Use Me”. And… I just can’t. Who would write about music that way?Anyway, there’s this other song on the album “Bad Luck City” comes from, called “R.L.’s Story”. It’s amazing, weird, and one that I listen to every so often because it’s so uniquely enjoyable.It’s a spoken word story backed by a weird, atmospheric slide guitar and electronic noise track. Here’s the spoken word part:
I had two uncles, two brothers, and my father did get killed in chicagoThat’s why i don’t like living there, it’s too rough a placePeople, going up down the street shooting, killing peoples, which it done it everywhere but they been doing it there a long time you know, and that’s a sad thingWell uhh, my brother, he was a doctor, i think he been, i’m not for sure but i think he been selling, some dope to him and he, i reckon quit, and they killed himAnd my uncle, one of them they killed him, another guy killed him about his wife. he, with his wife, and about two years after, he killed him. he he, stayed with his lived with his wifeAnd my other uncle, i don’t know the what reason he got killed, but i know he, got killed and my dad they killed him and robbed him, he, he got his, check you know his, and uhh, somebody, ganged up on him and stabbed him oh lord dang, twenty-five thirty times. and nobody never went to to jail for it cuz they never found out who it wasAhh, then i was, that was in uhh, uhh, fifties, yeah cuz i lived there in the forties, and my uhh, soon as i left there, ’bout uhh, eleven months after i left there, my father got killed, then about a week later, my both of my brothers got killed the same day. and then uhh, one of my uncles got killed about three months later, and it was about, six or eight months ‘fore my other uncle got killed; but they all got killed in a year’s time……yeah, i’m glad i i made it out manYeah both of my brothers got killed the same dayBut uhh, my uncle my daddy got killed, when he drawed some money back you know his, time, and somebody, he went out and get him a drink i imagine, the whiskey store not too far from his house. about, a block and a half and somebody killed him umm, between there and there before he got there, he was just at the, other side of the next house from where he lived but uhh and he killed him there, and took his moneyAnd one of my uncles they, the guy, killed him about his wife he caught him there with his wife, and he killed him. and i don’t know what happened to my other uncle but he got killed you know i don’t know just what happenedNaw, no no done nobody ever went to jail, cuz they ain’t, don’t know who did nothingWell uhh, yeah, i share-cropped, down at senatobia, and then uhh, i moved down to, tunica, i stayed down there a, couple years at uhh, hollywood, and uhh, i came from there back to coldwater, oounce and stayed there, two years and went back to memphis, we stayed, two or three years and we came back, stayed here a year and went back to memphis and stayed a couple years, then we come back and we ain’t been back since.
Wow. If even half of that is true, what a life! The text alone doesn’t do it justice. You have to hear the pathos in R.L.’s voice.On the subject of hardship, Matthew Presley sent this really great reply to last week’s Mindset emerging from practice email. He graciously gave me permission to share it with you:
Hi Philip,I think both you and the first source have valid points. I’ll add another thought to the mix. Many of our biggest and most effective changes come about as a result not of simply more effort or incremental improvements along a certain (linear) path, but as a result of fundamental mindset changes—deep changes in the basic paradigms and perspectives that shape our daily choices and decisions. Yet such changes almost never occur in a vacuum. In my experience, almost always, they stem from difficult challenges or adversity that we face in the actual doing of things. They come in response to unavoidable things that we can’t seem to get past. Things that challenge our most basic assumptions about ourselves and the world we live and function in.Ironically, we can go for years, decades even, without ever questioning or reevaluating our basic assumptions, simply taking many things for granted and making choices mostly guided by our unconscious assumptions.But then some unavoidable difficulty or complication invades the picture. Something that can’t just be walked around, avoided or ignored. An impasse. Something that our old assumptions don’t help us to surmount, face or understand. It’s in this context that we (hopefully) do some serious reassessing and seek new and better answers. We try to replace assumptions with what’s actually true. We adopt new paradigms. And from those core perpectival changes, lots of other things can change. So I would say that taking action is a necessary prerequisite to making mindset changes that make things better long term. But also unpleasantly necessary are the obstacles and difficulties that often stand in the way. —Matthew
There’s a ton of wisdom in what Matthew shared. See what he’s up to on his website.If you’d like help figuring out how to communicate the value my services can provide, then my small group coaching may be of interest.-P