The Blues: A Playlist on Homelessness (+♫)
When you have no place to hang your hat*, you often discover yourself to be unwelcome, estranged, forgotten and friendless. Your needs too great and resources too few. Daily living leaves you feeling the B-L-U-E-S.
This is my take on the emotional symphony that is homelessness, as expressed by artists past and present. I am a survivor of the experience and can relate well to the frequent painful lows. But as you will discover, there are joyful rhythms and uplifting sounds even in painful circumstances — if we just allow ourselves to listen.
These are the blues about folks with little and everything to lose.
- We begin with “Mr. Blues” by Hank Crawford, because when you start this journey it is empowered with hope, energy and wind in your sails.
- “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, is pretty self-explanatory.
- “Poor Boy Blues” by King Curtis & Captain Jack Dupree is the reality check.
- “Fool’s Gold” by Lizz Wright tells us that I could blame someone else, but that I had a role in this.
- “Better Not Look Down” by BB King and featuring The Crusaders with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a reminder to keep your head up, eyes on the prize and persevere.
Now to interject the homegrown D.C. medley: a modest tribute of blues music relative to D.C. artists and my own D.C. homeless experience.
- “Rocks In My Bed” by Dick Morgan Trio, a D.C. jazz icon.
- “All Blues” by Tim Eyermann and the East Coast Offering, another popular local group of jazzmen.
“Blue Collar” by Gil Scott-Heron, D.C.’s Poet Laureate. The lyrics speak for themselves.
- “I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. If you don’t know these two, put down the paper and start googling! (Hint: Ellington is D.C. born!)
- “24th Street Blues” by Lee Ritenour because during my early days in the street, I woke up facing 24th Street NW every morning.
And for the final cadence:
- “You Don’t See Me” by Al Jarreau, because you — for reasons I can’t fathom and you won’t face — don’t.
- “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” by Hank Crawford, a reminder of what you can find in every quadrant of this city, the hub of the capitalist free world. It’s become a national symbol of embarrassment!
- “Blues for the Homeless” by Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters — need I say more? I will. It was the discovery of this tune, one night while “resting” in Reagan Airport, that actually gave me the idea to compile this list. Earl is really a brilliant, yet unsung, guitarist.
- “We Got By” from Al Jarreau, because ‘poor in pocket doesn’t have to mean poor in spirit.’
- “Don’t Let It Get You Down” by The Crusaders, because ‘you don’t give in, if you aim to win!’
- “Never Be The Same” by Ronnie Laws, because after a street life experience — and hopefully hearing these tunes — your perspective will be forever changed for the better.
- “Night Breeze” by Bobby Lyle, for a cool transition back to your reality.
- “Blue Collar” by Ron Holloway featuring Gil Scott-Heron, an updated treat by another Washington jazzman.
- “My Time Will Come” by Hubert Laws. Because when we struggle to produce a positive outcome it is faith, hope and perseverance that enables us to prevail!
Thank you for this opportunity to share a bit of my lifestyle with you. Please remember that homeless people, though blue, don’t need your pity. They need your empathy and aid.
*Speaking of hats (and aid), I recently passed my first $1000 fundraising milestone to jumpstart my hat business, “Brims,” on http://gofundme.com/kenmartin
— Street Sense (@streetsensedc) August 5, 2016