Age is just a number, and nowhere in life is that more true than in the arts. I’m pretty sure there is no word in any indigenous language for retirement, or examples of our artists who pick an age, kick up their feet and stop doing what Creator put them here on earth to do.
At age 82, Abenaki documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomasawin has completed her 45th film. At age 74, Buffy Sainte Marie is releasing her 18th album, complete with a promotional tour.
At 69, artist, activist and poet John Trudell is not only defying statistical longevity predictions for Indigenous men, but going strong with the launch of his 13th Poetry recording, titled Through the Dust.
Trudell collaborates with Swiss artist/producer Kwest and they make a good team. The tracks feature a seasoned poet with an even and steady accompanying sound. The track “Tears for Rain” is a slow jazzy meditation. It’s the voice, it’s the words, it’s the man and his mind that punch through on all nine tracks.
The music merely supports the spoken words. There is a line in the 2nd stanza of “Keeping Dry Tomorrow” which reads: “because i like to get high and other stuff”. This line didn’t make it into the recorded version of the poem, but shows up in the text. As a poet myself, this line stood out because I always thought Trudell’s poetry, when set apart from musical support, sort of sounds like the hazy ramblings of a guy with a ball point pen in one hand and a spliff in the other – inhaling and writing – sitting back and saying, “Yeah, that sounds great, man.”
But add music, and John Trudell’s far out philosophical and often personal verses are transformed into true art. He first recorded with traditional native music like drums and flutes early in his career, but it was the fateful introduction to Jesse Ed Davis which started Trudell on his journey as a spoken word recording artist with music composed just for him. Together they collaborated on three albums in the eighties before Jesse overdosed in June 1988.
Through the Dust is void of any live musicians or real instruments. Kwest has produced sounds, musicscapes and song-like compositions. Compatible, and all digitally produced tracks which John reads over.
His distinctive voice is what keeps his fans loyal. His conversational tone can almost be an audio brand for early 70’s activism. His was the voice that reached the masses with messages of Indian unity and empowerment from the Alcatraz occupation.
The messages in the poetry on Through the Dust didn’t quite make it out of the dust. If he intended to make statements or sentiments of anything in particular, they are vague.
But as a poet, he bypasses the canon of free verse to scribe something as unique as he is himself. And whatever it is he’s doing, I’m not going to worry about it, as long as he keeps doing it.
You can listen to Through the Dust at http://throughthedust.ch/