The Blues RevisitedbyMalePatternBoldness©
If you start me up I’ll never stop.
Yeah, I know what song that comes from. And it’s kind of appropriate that my story starts this way.
I don’t remember what year it was. The world was coming apart at the seams and my family held the hem ripper. For me, rock and roll was the answer to an unposed question. I was a 14-year-old hooligan hell-raiser with a second-hand Apollo hollow-body electric guitar whose parents insisted he leave the room when playing anything but “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds.” Yeah. Like that song would ever come up on somebody’s play list.
My parents were well-to-do deep south neo-Democrats who hoped to appear liberal without actually having to make any concessions to their wealth or positions.
We lived in Little Rock, Arkansas in a house on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River. You can see it on the south side as you drive down I-430, rising above the treeline like an A-Frame cabin with a hyperactive thyroid. Feel free to extend your middle finger as you pass. I do.
Dad was really into the whole Democratic Party experience. He and Mom were always hosting parties attended by some up-and-coming mucky-mucks. Bill Clinton once took a whiz in my toilet. I opened the door and there he was. He seemed startled, but at that time in history there were still a few people in the state who hadn’t seen his penis and I guess he was still shy about such things. I can’t remember if it was before or after he was elected Governor. I’ll have to check on that. It would be an indicator if my folks were merely stepping-stones for new candidates, or if they were really important to the political scene. I tend to believe the former.
See what I mean? Start me up and I’ll never stop.
Anyway, in order to make sure the house was always ready for the impromptu social gathering, and to show all in attendance that they really did care about minorities, my parents hired Cassandra as a live-in domestic. I know she barely made book money from the job, but she got the spare bedroom off the kitchen and they let her have Friday night to Monday morning off.
Cassandra was a college student at the time, working on a double major in history and sociology, but to my puberty-addled mind she was all woman, with beautiful dark skin that gleamed like polished mahogany. She was all about appropriateness. She never did anything to encourage me or give me hope that she had any kind of feelings for me beyond what she might have for a little brother. She didn't need to. It was all in my mind.
Her full lips and dark eyes made her all the more unapproachable and mysterious. Her hair was long and she wore it pulled back most of the time, just to keep it out of the way I guess. And since her work clothes consisted mostly of T-shirts and tight Levis, the mere sight of her was enough to give me agonizingly embarrassing hard-ons. I started hiding behind my guitar, keeping it on a neck strap everywhere I went.
My parents, of course, hated the guitar as well as most of the songs I tried to play on it. I was never allowed to plug it in to my amplifier, and had to go to the basement utility room when I wanted to play.
And that’s just where I was one warm June afternoon, sitting on the washing machine and trying to play “Brown Sugar” when Cassandra walked in with a laundry basket full of dirty clothes. I didn’t see her right off because, let’s face it, to play rock and roll you have to screw up your face and close your eyes. When I opened them, there she was.
She was wearing cut off jean shorts and a Razorbacks T-shirt. Her legs were smooth and shiny, the color of Pepsi Cola when light shines through the bottle. Her pockets extended about a half inch from the bottom of the cutoffs and the denim had begun to fray into white threads. The T-shirt was snug but not tight and I could tell she wore nothing under it. Her breasts were perfect and round and firm and I was so fucking glad I had the guitar sitting on my lap.
“Don’t stop on account of me,” she said.
I was all too aware of the song I was playing and felt self-conscious about it. “Ummm..I’m done I think.”
“You like the Stones?” she asked.
“Fuckin’ A!” I said automatically. Then I heard myself. “I mean..yeah.”
She laughed. I’d never heard her laugh before. I liked it and wanted to hear her laugh more.
“You ever heard of Muddy Waters? Elmore James? Howlin’ Wolf?”
I shook my head. At that time, if I couldn’t hear it on Top 40 radio, I’d never heard it at all.
“Well they’re the guys that the Stones listen to.”
“Cool,” I said, more to keep her talking than anything.
“Come by my room later,” she said. “I’ll let you listen to some. Right now I need to get my hands on what you’re sitting on.”
She laughed again and my hard-on pressed into the back of my guitar.
“I need the washer, honey.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right.” I slid off the washer careful to hold my guitar close and backed out of the utility room. “Later, huh?”
She gave me a womanly smile and nodded.
For the rest of the summer, Cassandra shared her collection of blues cassettes and even checked some out of the University library for me to enjoy. I was turning on to Magic Sam, Sonny Boy Williamson and B.B. King, trying to get that same sweet sound out of my guitar that B.B. could coax out of Lucille.
Cassandra was my private audience, often closing her eyes and tilting her head back as I played as if she was escaping to some faraway place inside herself. I loved watching her like that. She’d breathe in and out deeper and her nipples would strain against her shirt, regardless whether she was wearing a bra or not. Sometimes I’d ache to touch her and that feeling would be translated through my fingers, into the strings and I swear it was communicated to Cassandra sitting across the room from me.
She sighed deeply. “Boy, you need to be playing for an audience.”
“I thought I was,” I said, making her laugh. That beautiful sound.
“You know what I mean.”
I shook my head. “I’m just not black enough to sing the blues.”
Cassandra stopped smiling. “You bigot,” she said.
“I’m not a bigot,” I said, getting defensive.
“What do you think a bigot is?”
I thought a second before answering. “Someone who hates someone else because they’re different.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Hate is a whole different thing that mostly stems from fear. Bigotry comes from ignorance.”
“So now I’m ignorant?” I said. “My situation isn’t improving.”
She laughed again, all pretense of anger gone. “You’re too smart for your own good,” she said. “But you don’t have to be black to sing the blues. What the hell you think country music is?”
“Crap mostly,” I said.
“It’s just rural white blues.”
“Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds is a blues song?”
“All popular music stems from blues.”
“So where do the blues stem from?”
She looked at me a minute to see if I was serious. “You really want to know?”
“You have church clothes?”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “I’ve got some ‘Oh-Shit-Somebody-Died-And-We-Gotta-Go-To-The-Funeral’ clothes.”
“Put them on Friday evening and meet me at the curb.”
Cassandra’s VW didn’t have air conditioning. I felt the sweat drawn by the late August sun run down my back and into my Jockeys. I kept tugging at my tie until Cassandra slapped my hand.
“Quit fidgeting. You look good.”
She was dressed in her Sunday finest -- a long sleeveless violet dress and high heeled sandals. Her makeup was perfectly done and understated, with just enough mascara and eyeliner to set off her dark almond eyes. Her lips were a deep, glossy red. They looked wet. Her hair was down and fell about her shoulders in thick curls.
I confess, I spent so much time sneaking peeks at Cassandra that I had no idea where in the hell she was taking me. I know we went west on I-40 because as we passed Toad Suck Park, Cassandra giggled musically.
“Ever had your toad sucked?” she asked, laughing. Then her face went somber. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate.”
We turned north on 65, and drove for at least a half-hour. Actually, with the wind whipping at Cassandra’s hemline and my fantasizing about what she was wearing under the dress, I pretty much lost track of time. I found myself hoping I wouldn’t be asked to stand and walk too soon.
She slowed as we approached the Zion Grove Baptist Church, just north of Greenbriar. A huge tent had been erected on the lawn and I could see lots of people milling about the church and tent. None of them were white.
The parking lot was nothing more than driveway chat, and we kicked up rocks under the fenders as we came to a stop.
“Church?” I asked.
“Uh-huh. My church.”
“You drive this far just to worship?” It sounded bad immediately after I said it.
Cassandra took the keys out of the car and looked at me. “When you put it that way, no, I guess I don’t. Faith is all you really need to worship and I got faith so I guess I can worship anywhere. And religion is nothing more than the commercial side of faith.”
“So what do you come here for?”
Outside the car, good friends were getting reacquainted. There were lots of handshakes and hugs and kisses being exchanged. Cassandra watched the people through the VW’s windshield.
“I guess you’d call it fellowship.” She smiled at me and reached over to adjust my tie. “You spend too much time by yourself. Good looking man like you needs to experience life.”
I got out of the car and walked around to open the door for Cassandra, but she had already opened it and was getting out.
If I had ever wondered what it felt like to be a minority, I now knew. Mine was the only white face in the crowd and Cassandra made a point to introduce me to as many people as possible.
A large matronly black woman in a flower print dress walked toward us. She was fanning her face with a cardboard fan stapled to an oversized Popsicle stick. The fan read McNutt Funeral Home, Conway, Arkansas. I could only assume that all the people in Conway had died and McNutt was looking to expand into a new market.
“Cassandra, sugar, what you got here?”
Cassandra smiled. “This is my date.” She looped her arm through mine and I tried to act nonchalant and mature, while my heart was tripping out like a Charlie Watts drum solo.
“Woman, you robbin’ the cradle, hun!” They both laughed and I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to laugh too so I just smiled.
As we moved through the crowd I began to feel less and less conspicuous. If they had a problem with a white boy being there, no one showed it. In fact, this crowd was more hospitable than my mother’s family reunions..
A we picked up our fans from our folding chairs and sat down, I leaned over to Cassandra’s ear and whispered: “What do they do here?”
“You asked me where the blues come from,” she said. “You’re about to find out.”
For the next two hours, I was enthralled by the raw energy and excitement generated by the congregation at the tent revival. If blues reflected the sadness, gospel accented the joyous. I could hear the roots of bluegrass, country, and -- yes -- even rock and roll.
It was over too soon. In the car, waiting for traffic to clear so we could pull back onto the highway, Cassandra’s skin shone from a combination of perspiration and inspiration.
“So tell me,” I said, trying to sound mature enough to be considered a real date, “what do you feel is the main difference between gospel and blues?”
Cassandra chewed her lower lip as she thought. “Good gospel males me feel renewed. Invigorated.” Her eyes closed to a narrow slit. “Righteous.”
“And the blues? How do good blues make you feel?”
Her eyes opened wide. “Wet,” she said.
“You mean sweaty?”
“Mmmm. If I’m lucky, baby.” She accelerated onto the road. “I’m sorry, honey. That was inappropriate.”
My parents were waiting for us when we got home.
“Thank God you’re OK,” my mother said to me. “Now go to your room and stay there.”
I waved goodbye to Cassandra and she smile and waved back. In my room, I stripped out of my sweaty clothes and stepped into a lukewarm shower. My mind ran back through the events of the night. The music. The people. My best friend.
When I got up the next morning, Cassandra was gone. She’d taken all her possessions, packed them in the night and left. My parents sipped their coffee as if nothing had happened.
“Where’s Cassandra?” I asked.
“We won’t speak of her again,” my mother said.
But she did. I overheard her several times in the next few weeks, telling her friends why she had to “let Cassandra go.”
“Imagine,” I heard her telling someone on the phone when she thought I wasn’t listening, “taking a 14-year-old boy to a darkie revival.”
I wondered if Cassandra would hold steadfast in her belief that bigotry grew from ignorance and not plain old hate.
OK, it’s your fault I’m this deep into this. I warned you about starting me up. But if you’ve stuck with me this far, I promise from here on in it gets really good. As good as a story like this can get, anyway.
Just a few weeks after Cassandra went away, I started prep school. Prep, you know, like preparation for me to go to the old man’s alma mater.
Problem is, I didn’t want to go to the old man’s alma mater and I sure as hell didn’t want to be in prep school for it. When I came home for Christmas break, I carried a message to my father from the headmaster asking that I not return. I was expecting a screaming fit from my father, but he didn’t say anything. In fact, he didn’t say much of anything to me for the next couple of years.
When I graduated from public school, my parents gave me $1,500 and told me they were changing the locks on all the doors. I took the hint.
I bought a Dobro guitar just like Robert Johnson’s and an ‘87 Ford Escort hatchback wagon to carry it around in. I was 18 years old and was as free as I'd ever be. I debated where to go and thought about heading north to Branson. Only problem is that Branson isn’t particularly known as a hotbed for blues. I figured I’d end up playing “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” for some washed up country singer who was one third cowboy hat, one third teeth and no thirds talent. Besides, I didn’t think the Escort would make it through the mountains.
Memphis was an option. I could pay my dues on the same streets that Bukka White and his cousin Riley B. King once played.
Or I could turn south to Shreveport, home of Ledbelly.
I opted for Shreveport.
My car broke down in Benton, just 20 miles outside of Little Rock on I-30. So I found a cheap apartment and started working as an assistant manager at a Radio Shack store. OK, there were only two of us working there, so I was sales clerk, janitor, display builder and -- by default -- assistant manager. The pay sucked, but it left me time to play whatever bar would let an underage blues apprentice work for tips. And let's face it, I was lazy.
I was two weeks shy of my 21st birthday and still at the Shack, working on an end cap display of Where-Is-As-Is sale items, when I heard a sweet voice ask, “Sugar, could you help me find this battery?”
I looked up and there she was. Cassandra. The intervening years had made her a little leaner and more toned, but all the right curves were still there.
She put her hand over her mouth as recognition set in. “Oh my God, look at you!” And then she did. A slow take from my feet, lingering at midsection, and then back to my face. “You are all grown us and somethin’ special.”
She asked about my parents and I told her we didn’t really speak anymore. “Probably for the best, hun,” she said. “Still playin’?”
“Of course,” I told her. “For an audience, whenever one is available.”
She was quiet for a moment, as if two teams were debating something in her head. “Why don’t you let me make you supper tonight?”
It had been a long time since my last home-cooked meal. I quickly accepted.
“But bring your guitar. This isn’t a free meal.”
I laughed. “You expect me to sing for my supper?”
“You know it.”
Cassandra was a hell of a cook. Fetticinni and white sauce, home-baked bread and a Romaine and tomato salad with a nice red wine. Over dinner I found out she had been married and then divorced when she found him cheating on her. She was teaching history in a middle school in Benton and hoped to save enough to complete her Master’s in a couple years.
Her home looked like her -- very simple, yet classy in its own way. She had no TV in the living room, but several bookcases overflowing with hardbacks. A small stereo system fed two bookshelf speakers that were playing soft jazz in the background. One bedroom she used for her den, and it was cluttered with papers and a desktop computer and more books. The other bedroom was where she slept.
“OK honey, supper’s over. Time for you to do your thing.” Cassandra was sitting on her love seat, her legs pulled under her. She was wearing a cotton summer pullover and its light color made her skin seem even darker. The dress was short to start with, but the way she was sitting made it rise higher on her thighs. She had her arms wrapped around almost hugging herself and the dress was low enough in front that I could see her breasts pulled together and thrust up by her arms.
I was glad I had already taken my guitar out.
I launched into “Dust My Broom” and “Blues Before Sunrise.” I even did some obscure blues tunes like “Play With Your Poodle” and “Fat Woman Blues.” Through it all, Cassandra sat at rapt attention, her eyes sparking and her breathing making her breasts rise and fall much too quickly.
I have a bad habit of sweating when I play. After a dozen songs, I stopped to mop my forehead with my shirtsleeve, but since I was wearing short sleeves, it didn’t work too well. I ended up smearing sweat on my bare arms.
“Sorry about that,” I said.
“I’m not, baby. Remember what I said about good blues?”
I smiled. “That it makes you wet?”
She walked across the room, took the guitar off my lap, sat it carefully on the floor, then straddled me and took my face in her hands.
“That was some good blues.”
She kissed me so sensuously that I was immediately sure she felt my response pressing against her at the point where her crotch met mine. I was also sure I didn’t care. My arms went around her, pulling her tighter against me as her tongue pressed its way into my mouth.
She was still holding my face and when she pulled her mouth away momentarily, she looked deep into my eyes. Her hips were moving slowly on me and my cock was pressing hard against her pussy. My jeans were hot at the juncture of our bodies and she closed her eyes and moaned softly as her hips rocked on me.
I was so hungry for this woman. I pressed my lips to the base of her neck and kissed the soft V of her collarbone. Her head went back. Eyes closed, face tilted toward the ceiling, she leaned closer as my mouth moved lower. My tongue explored the deep cleft between her breasts and her hands went behind my head to pull me tighter.
I slid my hands from her back and brought them up to feel her breasts through the fabric of her dress. So full, yet soft. Her nipples were pressing through the material and I let my fingers trail over them.
Cassandra shuddered, turning her face back down to look at me. Her dark eyes clouded, her hips bucked, and she collapsed against me, pressing her face into my shoulder as she climaxed.
I wasn’t a virgin at that point, but I’d never had anyone orgasm with such intensity before. Especially a grown woman. Especially with my pants still on.
Cassandra leaned against me for a few more seconds, breathing deeply in my ear and stroking the back of my head, my hair damp from sweat.
She sat up slowly and looked at my face. Then she kissed my lips and slid off my lap. My jeans were damp and my erection was straining against my Levis.