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Friday, December 01, 2006

Robert Sheppard: Smokestack Lightning

This is what happened to me. Tony thrust a copy of Tin Pan Arcadia into my hands and made me get up on stage and not sing, which I might have predicted, but read a passage from 'Smokestack Lightning' (printed below), which is something he always does when they play 'Motherless Child Blues'. Written about 1930 by Barbecue Bob, this song was one that Tony and I used to do, but which he now plays as an electric up-tempo number. However when I read it, the band softened to a Bob Diddley shuffle and I read these words:

Kid Bailey's the name I travel with, kidding
around: the name on the only phonograph;
walked up to the shop window, the glitter
of the diamond-fretted Dobro a death squad
tuning up. My handkerchief shields
the chord shapes from
your thieving eyes. Just pull the razor
and shave him. The gun in the guitar case was
no use - jealous man stepped up to Charley
as if to ask for Pony, retuned. Bill-
boards tell women what
to be: a circle of music-stands
dreaming thrills, dancing the Shimmy-She-Wobble -
some guy called it a dry fuck -
the guitar dances too, spins
above Charley's head. I could see
my own rapt reflection in the shine,
an invisible piano whose pedals are moody
bendings. Love my suitcase and the road.

(You can see a very different performance of the poem from 2008, here.) 

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