I've been waiting anxiously by my rusty mailbox for Issue #2 of Mystery Island Magazine. This is the one I've really been looking forward to getting my hands on. It's the 'all blues' issue, "Bottled At The Source." Being a card-carrying blues man myself, I was curious to see if it was possible for talented writers to capture the elusive essence of the blues in words. I was not disappointed. Issue #2 is so hip, it glows in the dark.
The issue is dedicated to the memory of Rhythm & Blues master, Ray Charles. Fittingly, the magazine opens with Bradley Mason Hamlin's tribute to Ray called simply "For Ray Charles." Hamlin, a deeply emotional writer, takes us back to his college days and ways for a road trip with old amigos, plenty of beer in the cooler, and the night filled with sweet possibilities:
"Driving/from Sacramento valley/to San Francisco bay/drinking beer/with college buddies/laughing/swerving/almost never crashing/but always/listening to Ray..."
The writing style is musical and loose, almost like being along for the ride. I'm not going to try to analyze this poem other than to say it's "West Coast" cool. This is a style that always seems to have a street that leads back to the great 'beat' poets of the '50s; a style, still alive and well in all the places that count. Later in the magazine, Hamlin also contributes a beautiful prose piece entitled "Blues For Michelle".
Another inspired idea by the editor was to include lyrics to some classic blues tunes like: Son House's, "John The Revelator", Mamie Smith's, "Crazy Blues" and W.C. Handy's, "St. Louis Blues". The lyrics in the Son House piece really point out the basic connection between early black gospel music and Blues music:
"...Now God walked down in the cool of the day/And called Adam by his name/But he refused to answer, cause he was naked and ashamed/So, tell me who's that writin'/John the Revelator..."
Son House, along with others such as: Robert Johnson and Bukka White were all true pioneers of 'bottleneck' guitar, where instead of using only the tips of the fingers to fret the instrument, the guitarist also uses a short tube (usually glass or metal) inserted on the finger of choice to sound notes by sliding up and down the strings to a particular note. Contemporary guitarists like Duane Allman and Ry Cooder later refined and built on this very expressive technique
My absolute favorite poem in this blues collection, is a poem by Nicky Hamlin called "Ma Rainey Blues". This piece really has an authentic "gut bucket" blues feel:
"low down/the tears are all dried up/salty stiff water staining/my sad face...I'm drifting/drifting off to sleep/those pills the doctor gave me/got me feeling weak"
Lord, somebody call my mama, and tell her the shape I'm in. Folks, that's Nicky Hamlin gettin' down low on that one. I hate to point out writer's tools (Creative Writing 101), but you've got to dig the slippery slope of alliteration in the first stanza as you tumble down the stairs with 'Ma Rainey' all the way to the blues basement. Nicky also contributes another piece called "Big Mamma", that in some ways echoes the chilling Billie Holiday song "Strange Fruit". A sad look back at "Jim Crow" days in the South.
The blues issue also features poetry from a host of other great writers: Tom Russell's "Blues for Bobby Hatfield" is a tribute to the high-range half of the great blue-eyed soul team, "The Righteous Brothers" -- Kent Gowran's sanctifying "Electric Hoodoo Man" -- James Quinton's street corner ode to the "Last of the Bluesmen". We also join Mike Soper for "A Glass of Whiskey With Merciful Miles" and the legendary poet A.D. Winans lays down the boogie with, "Listening To John Lee Hooker":
"toe tapping/knee slapping/head bopping/mind shattering blues/bathed in rainbow hues..."
Scurvy Bastard checks in from London to give us a journalistic roadie's eye view of working behind the scenes with blues legend Eric Clapton in "Blues Story". This piece could have been called "Blues For Roberta". You'll have to read it to find out why. The moral of the story is, Scurvy's still gettin' the blues, and Clapton's still gettin' the money.
Matt Smith's short story "Stormy Monday", asks the question, "Who is Donald Curry and did he really play piano for Wilson Picket, or is he just a jiving, down and out hair stylist panhandling the streets?"
Finally, for good measure, Brad Hamlin throws in "The Blue Lady". Another installment of the further adventures of "AlcoholMan, The Intoxicated Detective." Let's call it "Blues Noir". The magazine also includes contributions from a host of other great poets like: F.N. Wright, Aleksey Dayen, John Dorsey, Carl Zerse, Matt Smith and Tony Muljat.
My only complaint is the lack of contributor biographies. Knowing a little more about the writers featured in the magazine would be nice, but you can't have everything. At $4.99 per copy or a six issue subscription for $25.00, there's no way you can go wrong. By the way, each issue of Mystery Island Magazine features a different theme, so sooner or later you're bound to see one you like. So, get on-line and visit the island at: www.mysteryisland.net.