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Friday, January 14, 2011
Odetta and Aghdas
Odetta and Aghdas
JANUARY 11, 2011
I Dream of Odetta and Aghdas
By John Taylor; 2011 Jan 14, Sharaf 15, 167 BE
My daughter got this new electronic piano for Xmas from her grandfather. The other day my 11 year old son Thomas was idly flipping through the canned songs on the piano and happened to come across one called "House of the Rising Sun." He liked it, so we looked it up on Youtube. I had it in my head that this was a Rolling Stones song, but no, either the copyright cops wiped the Stones Version off YouTube completely or the version I was familiar with was really the one by the Animals. I also had the misconception that it was about a whorehouse.
No, turns out that it is a gambling song.
In any event, I soon found out that Rising Sun is an old folk song dating back to the 15th Century, but that the first time it was written down was in the 1930's by the likes of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Like myself at his age, Thomas was content with the Animals' version, which evidently was a newer arrangement of the older song, written around 1960. I found out that YouTube has dozens and dozens of versions of Rising Sun by many artists.
Over several days I listened to several of these renditions of Rising Sun, but nothing appealed the way the Animals song I grew up with, nor did I see a lot of merit in the older folk arrangement by Leadbelly until I came across this old blues singer that I, non-music connoisseur that I am, had never heard of, called Odetta. Her version absolutely knocked my socks off. As one of the YouTube commenters piped in, she sings it like she means it. Since the particular Odetta rendition that I ran across is much better than she herself did it on other occasions, I have put the version I like on the Badi' blog, at:
Odetta's fame evidently dates back to the 1950's. She sang the version I like not long before she died a few years ago. She sings Rising Sun like she really is a dying gambler looking over the rim of the grave, looking back over a life of wasted opportunity, telling her little sister do not go near that place if you don't want to die in sin and misery ... no other artist I heard has come anywhere close. Odetta sings Rising Sun like she is undergoing the tragedy right before your eyes, not like an abstract, hypothetical thing the way others do. Admittedly, Odetta's song does not sound much like the song that got me there on Youtube ... but in its own way this one of the most astonishing performances I have ever seen.
This is the way I would sing -- if I were a singer -- to lament my migraine-ridden existence, my anguish at what it does to my life, especially this winter, wiping attention out every time I start to learn or write something, how a splitting head ruined a stunted career, tore heart and soul out every time I get my fingernails on truth, leaving only a pile of crumpled, torn fragments on the floor.
I woke this morning trying to think of what Odetta's version of Rising Sun reminded me of ... it was dancing somewhere in my dreams last night. Then it hit me. Mrs. Aghdas Javid. When Aghdas teaches the Faith, she teaches it like she means it. She bursts with real feeling, bursting enthusiasm, love for the Faith ... just as Odetta raises from the grave the lamentations of some dying gambler and infuses everything with a pathetic sense of loss. And like Odetta, Aghdas is singing her swan song; she must be hitting 90 years old now... Not that Aghdas is mournful or sad, quite the reverse, but when she talks about Baha'u'llah -- well, what she says stands out from other teachers of the Faith just like Odetta does from ordinary crooners.
What a privilege it has been to have Mrs. J in our Ruhi Book Eight study sessions! There are two major local scholars of the Faith attending, plus this talkative fanboy (that would be me), and what she has to say about the Covenant always blows anything we have to say right out of the water. We say, "there is this and this written down somewhere" and she says, "I was there listening to the Guardian when..." or "my grandfather went off and the Master told him..." Whenever the tutor cuts her off to go on to the next topic in the book I feel like falling on the ground and begging her not to do it, saying,
"No, no, no, don't cut her off, there is nothing that takes priority over first-hand testimony like this! We can live till we are ninety ourselves and study Ruhi until we are blue in the face and we will never get this kind of first hand, historic testimony."
As we were leaving our Book 8 session last time Mrs. J was saying how she wants to keep her Wednesday night fireside, held since 1967, going after she dies and somebody was saying how the LSA is looking into that and I was thinking how nobody, not if there were a million applicants could ever fill this woman's shoes in our lifetime and I was thinking what somebody should do, somebody with a camcorder that is, is to record what she has to say and put her on YouTube so that her beloved fireside could continue on forever in Cyberspace and then maybe somebody will run across the Baha'i Faith through her unique testimony the same way I ran across Odetta who showed me what a blues singer can do with House of the Rising Sun. In my dreams ...
Here are the only two pictures of Mrs. J turned up by a search for her name on Google images: