Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Fattening Frogs For Snakes

for Dennis Formento & Arthur Pfister

Coming out of Mississippi,
out of the mouths
of the children
& grandchildren of slavery
right around the turn
of the 20th century,

calloused fingertips
pressed down on the strings
of beat up guitars
on small town street corners
or broken down back woods joints
in the darkness of Saturday night,

or on a bright Sunday morning
in a ramshackle clapboard church,
making music to praise the Lord, & give thanks
for another back breaking week
in the cotton fields of the Delta

(for this was music created
as much to escape
the rigors of share cropping
& brutal manual labor
as to shape a new form
of expression through song)

& the Delta blues sounded forth
out of Mississippi
on crude recordings
cut in make shift studios
by enterprising white men
from the North, & sent out

on 78 rpm singles
from Paramount & OKeh & Columbia
to enter & reshape the lives
of people of every description
all over the world—the Delta sound
ringing all up & down the line

like a National steel guitar
frammed in some little jukehouse
in the middle of the woods,
or the amplified blast
of an electric guitar
plugged into the wall

of a nasty street corner bar
on the south side of Chicago,
the sound of Mississippi
carried up from the Delta
into the factories & tenements
of the cities of the North

where peoples could make a living
outside the cotton fields
& be paid in cash dollars
at the end of every week or two
& conduct their lives
in the ways that they saw fit

& the music sustained them
as it had in the South, trans-
forming the industrial noise
of the urban landscape
through amplified harmonicas
& pounding pianos

& the crashing of drums
& the Fender bass—a music
of such great power
& incredible beauty
& depth of emotion, so deeply rooted
in the lives of the people

that their bitter experience
could be shaped into art
of the highest possible order
that would inform
all of popular music
for the rest of the century—

but their rewards
would never come, & the white man
would reap the fruits
of their artistic labors
as if they were bolls of cotton
in a 9-foot croaker sack

& the music of the Delta
would be appropriated
& exploited beyond measure
by the descendants
of the slave owners, & their bank rollers
to swell their bulging coffers

& nothing would be returned
to the people of the Delta
& their music
would be taken away
& they would be left
to face the terrible future

of life in the ghetto
with nothing to sustain them,
nothing to carry them
through the horrors of modern life,
nothing but the watered down sound
of what was once their music

played back at them by white people
on every television set in America,
nothing from the billions of dollars of profits
to be realized from their creations,
nothing to the creators,
nothing to the people who created them,

not even the dignity
of being recognized
for the enormity of their contribution
to the cultural life of our nation,
nothing to the blues men,
nothing to the blues people—

this is what they mean
when they talk about the blues,
this is what the blues is all about:
“Fattening frogs for snakes”
& watching the mother fucking snakes
slither off with the very thing you have made

— Rampart Street
New Orleans
March 7 > 13, 1998 >
January 9, 1999