a funky ode to ‘the voice’

Posted on May 13, 2009

funky, what a word. the first time i heard it, I think was in ‘funky meters’ – you know, the band that aaron neville and his brothers and cousins started ‘fore they called themselves the neville brothers. it was ’cause they kinda started that music they describe as ‘funk’ – you know the sound that many associate now with the ‘new orleans sound’ – a mix of jazz, blues and southern soul with a heavy, syncopated rhythm and a repetitive bass line – almost sounds like more than one beat going at once. "well, i-yi-yi-yi wanna spread the news – that if it feels this good getting used, just keep on using me, ’til you use me up." i’ve also heard it to mean something hip and unconvential – some might wanna say bizarre – more ‘artsy’ than bizarre. somewhere right smack dab in the middle of hip and downright dirty. hmmmm. if you’re into etymology – pinning the wings of a word into a cardboard box to study from whence it came – it derives from the french dialectal funquer . . . to give off smoke, from old french fungier, from latin fūmigāre – and you realize, of course that makes it a french kissing cousin to fumigate? the first recorded use of the word was in the 18th century – when it was used to describe something musty or moldy smelling – like strong cheese, incense in the church, or perhaps the smell of mother earth when you scratch and claw at her surface on a warm spring day – like patchoulli. ahhhhhhhh. i’ve also heard it used to describe tastes acquired – like blue cheese or earthy and natural like some of the creole dishes. ummmm i think al pacino used the word in ‘scent of a woman’ to describe how folk feel right after hot, steamy, satisfying sex – ‘all sweet and funky like’. yessssss Another possiblity is the 1959 suggestion by F. Newton in Jazz Scene "”Critics are on the search for something a little more like the old, original, passion-laden blues: the trade-name which has been suggested for it is ‘funky’ (literally: ‘smelly,’ i.e. symbolizing the return from the upper atmosphere to the physical, down-to-earth reality).” is that it? is that what the voice sounds like after many trips up and down the scale from the upper atmosphere to down-to-earth reality? all funquer…hip, all around a trip to high camp . . but ‘all sweet and funky like’ as it descends from the upper atmosphere penetrating the down-to-earth reality of mere mortals?

if that’s the sound – how does it feel when spat out at a staccatissimo against you on a frosty morning, "come out ye black and tans" – does it strike fear in the heart of foe (or the faux) that hear it and gird up yer loins to do battle with all mortal enemies? Does it flail and tear like bullets or shrapnel into the flesh of those what have offended you? how does one offend – by small or large things? when that voice works its way from your mouth to the air on a laugh – what’s it feel like then? natural like,skippy, happy and warm or is it cold, hard, dripping with icicles of sarcasm? what’s it feel like, you reckon, when it escapes the lips with barely a breath – stifled by loyalty, a whisper of sound waves clouded over with whiskey undulating and modulating on the flesh? Is it soft and slow then or is it rough and fast like the tongue of a cat rapidly licking milk away?

what does that voice taste like? is it all rich and oaken tasting or has it the salty taste of being steeped in unrepentent tears and blood? is it an acquired taste – that taste for bitterness, salty and warm with life? or do the frequent trips into the upper atmosphere dilute that for the keeper of the voice?

its not fitting for a southern girl to be handling and examing anthin’ like this especially on a sabbath morning. I know I should stop and yet I cannot. It’s like being told to stop when you are on right on the precipice of ….and so I continue, peeling back wave after wave after soundwave in my quest for the mystery of it.. my nerve must not falter and even when i am spent, I can not let go. what stripes will i receive for my curious union with this. . . this funky voice? for now, i’ll put it back where i found it – no one will know I had it out if I am coy enough. I can do this without betraying myself, although curiousity is a strange taskmaster and the quest for satisfaction is unrelenting, n’est-ce pa? i think i’ll just go outside and look towards the sky and listen.


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