dear moth's powder
i should have known something of myself based on the ways i used to love to play the tambourine. i never liked the aggressive pop as much as the flamboyant jingle, though i popped it a lot and was not shy about the percussiveness of the pigskin (and no, the newer plastic tambourines, i think, are horrible; they don't have the same sound. don't tell PETA, though). anyway. i would shake and shake and shake the tambourine, just so i could hear the jingles. of course, the pop-doo-loo-loo-loo-pop-doo-loo-loo-loo-pop were cool, percussive or whatever. but the shack-a-lack-shack-a-lack almost bordering on some bells that jingle for the holidays? well. the jingles are slightly noisier and a bit more incoherent, which is why i like them so much. not so much angular in their address, they're more suffuse and diffuse. sorta just sounds like a shakeshakeshakeshakeshake or a shhshhshhshhshhshhshh and i can't ever hear it without thinking of the ways bodies moved and bounced when they were played. breasts jiggled. asses quaked. the entire body's gotta gyrate even if a little bit. and to be serious with playing such a sound, one would have to concentrate, pull their lips into the mouth so all you see is its crease and line, one would have to hold one's breath while beating whenever trying to create polypercussive rhythm of the bop-bah-doo-doop-bap-bah-doo-doop really, really, really fast.
and of course, this sorta rhythmic sound could only be matched by a pair of new "church shoes" on a wooden floor. you know exactly what i mean too! you're probably, what, smiling a bit as you read this because you know whenever you bought a new pair of shoes, you'd say, let me find a good wooden floor because the sound of the new heel on wooden floor is so...churchy. pentecostal shouting ain't only about the move of the spirit, it's also about the move of sounds over the varied locations, making the building resonate with some such holiness and life. and nothing sounds better than a bunch of shoes clanking and clonking on some such wooden floor along with other hands clapping and the organ's bass runs and the yelps and hollers and the shhshhshhshhshhshhshh of some such tambourine.
pretty much, my affinity for the tambourine should have let me know, early, that i would be a bit difficult to pin down, nice to hear, but difficult to gather once sounded out. i'd need constant movement and motion for sustenance, couldn't pop me once and think that i'd reverb. no. i needed to be jostled and handled and moved. and it was you that was able to do that. words are failing me a bit today. but i suppose i am simply trying to ask: what is it to be handled and moved? you'd gotta know something about the environment, about the social world, in order to get what was going on. and you were able to see me but once, at your daddy's church, that one sunday and knew - and knew - after but one conversation that something about me needed something about and within you. and of course, the vice versa.
maybe it was in my reticence and astonishment at the very suggestion that we should "exchange numbers" and "hang out" in such a public space, with everyone seemingly looking on. you know there were all those rumors that you might be a bit "funny," that you were a "tambourine beater" for a very long time - or so you said after we'd hung out - so your presumption and gumption in front of all those people was telling. and that is to say nothing of the ways you knew that i would comply, that something in me leapt out toward you and needed you when we spoke. your astonishment and surprise and that surprised gesture of the brows going up, rapidly, quickly, and the way your mouth formed that o shape? i could not take my eyes off your mouth when i looked at you so, of course, i looked around and up and down and past you as we spoke. i did not want people to think i was flirting with you but i was so confused by what was happening. but you, of course, knew something of the church and the rumor and the gossip in that location to which i did not yet have access. so i just sorta inhabited it as best i could. and you said don't go anywhere. let me put this tambourine back and you winked so faintly that even i almost did not notice it.
well. of course it was when New Dawns added the tambourines that things really took off for us. we had that sound of spiritual quest and Bobby, of course, gave the down beat with the bass drum, hi-hat, snare and cymbal. but there was still some such lacking quality, in our fast songs at least, that needed some other diffusion, some sound that would have us sound more "churchy" given our, how can we say, extrabiblical commitments and ideations.
it's sorta like Abbey Lincoln. in the beginning of her career, it seems she was much more focused on being and becoming another sorta Marilyn Monroe figure for black folks, focused a lot on outward beauty, but also the notion of reproducing and re-performing Monroe's visual look. i mean, Ebony Magazine did this entire spread in 1957 pretty much saying that Abbey was nothing other than the black (and more beautiful) version of Monroe. the problem, of course, is that she had to comport and composer her self in the Monroe-esque, her more beatifulness depended upon aspiring to mirror as closely as possible that which came before her. of course, all of this was before the tambourine. by the time Abbey performs with Max Roach in triptych: prayer, protest, peace, well, she was changed. some might even say converted to a particular black consciousness. after we saw her live performance - Jaylah was all into black radicalism and making us listen to it, to use it in our own music; i'm not complaining! - in one such live performance of driva man in Europe, Abbey looks almost like we should be calling her Sister Lincoln. the long, mute dress, the plain hair in a afropuff bun, the two-inch heels the lack of makeup and the tambourine; the picture of pentecostal holiness and modesty.
what was in the transition to the tambourine for her? what social life did the tambourine index? Max, of course, played the saxophone while Oscar Brown, Jr. played the drums. her voice and her tambourine were her instruments of choice and as she sung driva man, punctuating each phrase with a hit of the pigskin? well. if we wanted to get saved? it was that sorta salvation.
well, New Dawns singing songs with lyrics about zelophehad's daughters was one thing; singing the words of baby suggs, holy? well. that was another complication altogether. but knowing that the tambourine could be some such sound that works against the common assumptions of New Dawns as "unsaved?" (well, we weren't, not in some conventional sense, at least.) folks just chalked us up to some sorta it's not about their lyrics, it's about their quality and tone. well. as true as that is, it is also false. we could not give the same tone without some such lyrics that would allow us to break free from all sorts of normative frame and ideology. our unexpected lyrics gave a way to explore sound differently. we contested and agreed in all new modes and forms. maybe it was something about the insistent jingle of the tambourine? or maybe some such conversion to blackness. who knows.
i've been trying to say something but i think i'm failing. i know i have.