Music and Witness in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

It is undeniable that Sonny’s Blues is purposefully ambiguous in its title: it is about music and his sorrows. Sonny’s blues are little brother’s blues. In a way, in our own lives, we always have some “older brother”: someone looming over us telling us what to do or shitting on our dreams as a form of love out of “what’s best for us” (exactly what are you going to do with that “Art” degree?).

Sonny mopes around the house wanting to drop out of school to become a musician. his father isn’t having it, probably for witnessing his own brother’s death. His own brother (sonny’s uncle) was flattened, reduced to wood, “blood, and pulp.” The wood was his guitar. Walking in the moonlight, Sonny’s uncle (a teenager at the time) was run overr by drunk drivers, drunk enough to want to scare him, too drunk to swerve out of the way, white enough to keep driving. Sonny’s father wouldn’t let this happen again, not on his watch.

Oddly enough, the story is told in first person narrative through Sonny’s unnamed older brother (who I shall now refer to as OB). OB is as clueless as he is stable (clueless therefore stable?). He’s so far out of the loop but it’s safe there because in the loop of Harlem, is darkness, Baldwin writes. In the loop there is the cycle, and the cycle affects everyone; the wisest way it was put was through Sonny’s mama: “It aint a question of [Sonny] being a good boy or his having good sense. It ain’t only the badness, not yet the dumb ones that get sucked under.” Why is it that we want maximum punishment for those who have wronged us and that we want minimum punishment (and maximum empathy) for those who we have wronged? Continue reading “Music and Witness in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues””

Colton: A Hologram of Sound

I know a boy who is trying to keep himself together, trying to make a man of himself, trying to keep his band together, but I already said that: I said he was trying to keep himself together. When I say keep his band together, you should’ve read “he’s trying to keep himself together” for the second time. It’s a rock band, and he’s jazz, the best you’ve ever heard because it’s so desperate (don’t misconstrue: he isn’t desperate, his music is).

This one is a martyr, like all artists are, not the triers, the doers, the ones on pursuit, the ones with no Plan B, the ones whose core is not a heart, and lungs, and liver, but everyone’s suffering and you wonder: “How can his body endure it; how can one body store so much suffering?”

It becomes transformed, maybe, in its expulsion into sonic sorrow, and when the sound fades, sorrow with it. Remember the dying note. Remember its final axis: the very exact second sound meets silence. I want to live there; I’ve never known so much peace as the peace of that exact moment. Continue reading “Colton: A Hologram of Sound”

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