“You Know a Ghazal Is a Blues Song…”

by Max Reif

a personal essay which then uses ghazal #8 from Francis Brabazon’s IN DUST I SING to illustrate

“Blues Harp”. Artist unknown. From the collection of the author.

A long time ago I heard Mr. David Miotke refer to ghazals as “Urdu Blues.” That made me think. It was back during the period when to some degree I eschewed the Blues. The reason was simple: Baba had said to always be cheerful! Blues songs were downers! “My woman done left me, gonna have another beer,” etc etc. My friend Robbie Basho, a professional recording artist whom I had the privilege of working for during the last months of his life in the mid-1980's, also mused to me one day that when he and his musical compatriots John Fahey and Leo Kottke were working out the genre that became their brand, “We decided we wouldn’t do Blues.” I thought: there you have it; more evidence.

I knew a few Blues songs to play and sing on guitar, mostly from before I’d come to Meher Baba: “Love in Vain” by Robert Johnson, which had been covered by The Rolling Stones, for example. But I didn’t sing them much, for the same reason I mostly refrained from singing the jaunty country ballad, “I asked my love to take a walk,” which ends up, belying its melody, in a most grisly manner I didn’t want to pass on to others, or “infect” my own psyche with. I had recognized that, as Inayat Khan had written a whole book, COSMIC LANGUAGE, to say, “Everything we say, do and think has vibrations we are putting out into the universe.”

So after I heard David Miotke’s statement, I left it alone. It was clever, but it did not in the least cause me to retrieve the whole musical idiom of Blues from where I’d consigned it. I thought David was merely being clever!

A Brit named Lol Benbow had sung a Blues song to Meher Baba on one of the Pete Townsend-sponsored albums of the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. The first line, which I still remember, went, “Some day I’ll write You a love song, but right now I’ll just sing the blues.” Admirable; but an anomaly!

Let’s see: then, when Filis Frederick published the Francis Brabazon Songbook as a special issue of the Awakener Magazine, I learned that Francis had loved the American folk-and-blues musician Huddy Ledbetter, better known—apparently for biographically-accurate reasons—as Leadbelly. Francis wrote of Leadbelly as a Master singer, and went on to pay the ultimate compliment of re-writing a few of the singer’s lyrics for Meher Baba!

I think that was when I began an internal re-evaluation of my earlier rejection of the blues idiom. What are many of Francis’—and not only Francis’, but Hafiz’ and other Sufi Masters’— “lover’s complaint” ghazals, if not Blues, precisely as David Miotke had said?

For many years, I felt ashamed of feelings of separation from Baba. It meant I was doing something wrong! But if Hafiz and Brabazon both complain about Separation—I mean, is their Separation that different? Separation is separation, isn’t it? And Separation and Union (not just the final Union, but any state of experiential oneness and celebration) are the Two Subjects of poets!

So lately, I spend a lot of my time driving in my car, and sometimes walking as well, playing the harmonica and making up blues songs to Baba—unabashedly, unashamedly! I take how I feel and I sing it out! He already knows, anyway! It’s fun to “amuse Him” with a clever verse or rhyme—which is just as much of a surprise and amusement to “me,” the improvising singer!

Traditional Blues, which originated in the American South in the late 19th century, has a very simple basic 3-line form: a line sung and repeated, and a rhyming refrain line. The chord pattern, for an accompanying instrument, is simple too, and of course a guitar or harmonica can “wail” its own version of the blues in short instrumental improvisations after each of the first two lines.

Below is ghazal #8 from Francis Brabazon’s IN DUST I SING. It could easily be converted into a Blues song. This is true of any of Francis’ rhyming ghazals. The long lines in some of the ghazals might have to be shortened a bit, or accommodated melodically—or, as Greg Dunn has suggested, made into two lines.

Ghazal #8 from IN DUST I SING by Francis Brabazon

We have stolen our eyes to admire the passing clouds,
And sold our fingers to seamstresses to sew our shrouds.

Every ill thought, ill act, has a stubborn defender;
Unless love gives us courage we cannot surrender.

Strange that water seeks the lowest place, and we cannot—-
For water and we were by the same Error begot.

Philosophy will get us nowhere—-that’s why the Mills were set up.
But it’s a long process to dust—-and once started, there’s no let up.

If we can fall in love with the Grinder, the grinding’s a pleasure.
Know one thing: a sieve cannot hold water, nor a man his own treasure.

That life should hand us a dish of sweet fruit we take for granted—-
Yet we ourselves, in the Beginning, the knowledge-tree planted.

But don’t worry. If no go now, seven hundred years will soon pass.
All one has to be sure of is that by then one has an empty glass.

Meher Baba’s poet Francis Brabazon.

(ghazal #8, Copyright 1988 by Avatar’s Abode Trust)

Appendix: “BLUES FOR MEHER BABA” by Max Reif
(composed walking around Monterey, CA playing the harmonica, 12/2014)

Meher Baba, Meher Baba, You say that Everything is You.
Meher Baba, Meher Baba, You say that Everything is You.
Then why do I feel so separate? I’m part of that Everything, too!

Meher Baba, Meher Baba, I’ll let my longing be my Guide.
Meher Baba, Meher Baba, let my longing be my Guide.
Yeah, let that Separation lead me, until I find You where You hide!

Meher Baba, Meher Baba, I’m like a chick lost from his nest.
Oh, Meher Baba, Meher Baba, I’m like a chick lost from Your nest.
Surely You’re out looking for me, to bring me back unto You breast.

Meher Baba, Meher Baba, I’m very clumsy, as You know.
Meher Baba, Meher Baba, I’m very clumsy, as You know.
I have to drag my chains behind me, everywhere I go.

Meher Baba, Meher Baba, You bind with Separation’s glue,
Meher Baba, Meher Baba,You bind with Separation’s glue.
Some day I’ll spring right back into You, and there’ll be nothin’ more to do.

MEHER BABA, MEHER BABA, I love You everywhere I go.
MEHER BABA, MEHER BABA, love You everywhere I go.
I’m an active volcano! These words are spewin’ out my do’!

graphic art done spontaneously by Sondra London.

♥ ॐ ♥ ॐ ♥ ॐ ♥ ॐ ♥ ॐ

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