Today on the train I was listening to music with an uncomfortable sense of urgency, trying to keep up with the flash flood of new sound waves and feeling like I was about to drown. I went through the Big Boi album, the M.I.A. album, the Curren$y album. I got home and it hit me how much of my time is consumed by just trying to keep up with the new stuff. It’s not a bad thing. I enjoy it. But it can get stressful and made me want to go way back and post some shit that you’re not going to find on 20,000 other blogs this week.
I heard about Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) in middle school via Kurt Cobain, who was a big fan and covered Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” during Nirvana’s famous Unplugged in New York set. I did a little investigating (I picked my nose, looked in the trash, then asked my parents), and found out my mom had an old tape of his. On the cover was a picture of Lead Belly in prison attire with a stone cold (since then I’ve never seen him any other way) look on his face. It’s the kind of look you only see on noble Indian chiefs and hardened ex-cons. Leadbelly was the latter. Aside from his musical ability and original style on the 12-string guitar, he was known for a very violent temperament.
I put the tape in my awesome battery operated boombox and hit play. I’m not going to pretend that as a 6th grader who listened to Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin that I understood what I was hearing, but I was fascinated. I will never forget the first time I heard Huddie Ledbetter’s voice, sprawled out next to the kitchen table with my ears to that all black, clumsy looking boombox.