One short sleep past
Image: Amanda Kavanaugh
I'm Willin' (Part 1) - The Staple Singers
Centuries before gospel borrowed from the carnal of blues and other secular music, artists were articulating spiritual ecstasy with a slightly more accessible (and mundane) lexicon. Think Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIV" (Except you enthrall me, never shall be free/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me) or Bernini's St. Teresa of the Arched Back and Parted Lips. None of us right here are saints, and from our likely diminished perspective, the pleasure of voluntary and absolute surrender--body or soul--are proportionate. But really we enjoy only an awkward and imperfect grace, a grace of knees and elbows, lurches and stammers. Whatever you believe I think you know this, and it haunts you. It haunts me. (For the record, I consider myself a spiritual person, but not in any organized-religion sense, so I'm absolutely not proselytizing here.) Maybe the Singers' relatively cool and sober responses to Mavis Staples' hot and heavy Lord I'm willing calls is this kind of momento mori. Small reminders. Still, the power and glory of this song is in Mavis singing. In her rich range and the way her voice splinters and sparks on the high notes like flames feasting on dry wood--red and triumphant but also ashen, dejected. In the way she just brushes the humid sway of drums and reverbed guitar with her fingertips, but dances cheek and hip and toes, full-body, eyes squeezed shut in want and need, with something unseen.
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Before she died this week at the much too young age of 36, Megan Matthews wrote for the music blog Moistworks. She did many other things too, including raising a young daughter. But I knew her only from reading her Moistworks posts--some of the best, most thoughtful and inspired writing about music (writing about anything) on the web. Her posts were brave, fierce, humorous, and always voiced with such intense feeling. This morning, the world seems lesser for her absence from it. You can leave condolences and donate to a college fund the Moistworks staff has established for Megan's daughter, here.