A Memory of B.B. King

Although I was an extrovert and class clown for much of high school, I kept to myself as much as possible on the school bus. That limbo between home and school is where I sought refuge in my Walkman cassette player, drowning out the obnoxious post-pubescent monsters that I was temporarily trapped in a metal tube with.

The token bully whose presence graced my school bus (he really wasn’t much of a bully to be quite honest; he was terrible at his job and nobody was really that afraid of him) came over to where I was sitting and intentionally leaned over into my line of sight from the seat in front of me to grab my attention. I slid the right ear of my headphones back and raised my eyebrows in a manner that’s universally understood as “what do you want?”

“What are you listening to?” he said.

I knew that even in 1994 there had never existed up to that point a musical artist of any genre that would be an appropriate response for him, or rather, something that he wouldn’t make fun of. For some reason I decided to respond anyway: “B.B. King.”

He cracked a huge smile and for a few hundred milliseconds I thought I had found a fellow B.B. King fan, but I quickly recoiled from my naiveté once he turned to the rest of the school bus; while coning his mouth with his right hand to amplify his voice and pointing down at my head with the index finger of his left hand — which bounced up and down like a buoy in rough seas — he shouted, “AYYY YO! This n*gga’s listenin’ to B.B. King!” He subsequently doubled over in laughter and a gaggle of other kids followed suit. An ocean of laughter surrounded me, and because I’m absolutely terrible at resisting a good laugh, I started to chuckle and eventually laugh alongside them, because there I was, a fourteen year-old, listening to “old people” music. The sentiment wasn’t lost on me. After all, how can a high school kid who knows next to nothing about life commiserate with “The Thrill is Gone” or “Ten Long Years” or “Three O’Clock Blues”?

I was socially adept enough to be keenly aware of what music was “cool” to listen to, but oftentimes I listened to whatever the fuck I wanted, especially music that moved me. Although 90% of the time it was Hendrix, sometimes it was B.B. King. There is something unmistakably beautiful about music that not only transcends generations but also allows one to feel the artist’s life experiences, regardless of the age or wisdom or understanding of the listener.

Rest in Power, King of the Blues! I’m still listening.

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