(Editor’s note: No hippies were harmed in the writing of this blog post.)
I have a nonscientific, shamefully new-age-y theory that goes a little something like this: Much like the concept of chakras, which some eastern religions say are subtle focal points where your body receives and transmits energy, I believe certain places act like musical nexuses, providing spiritual junctions for musicians (by the way, I had my fingers crossed that the plural of “nexus” would be “nexi,” but no such luck). Allow me to clear one thing up, though. While New York City is clearly a hub for American culture in so many respects, this is not a blog post about New York City. Yes, it was Gil Scott-Heron’s song “New York Is Killing Me” that inspired me to write about musical centers of energy, but it’s his mention of needing to “go home and slow down in Jackson, Tennessee” that got the new-age thoughts a-whirrin’. Jackson’s a relatively small town (the population came in at just over 65,000 in 2010’s census) but a number of significant musicians have roots there — Scott-Heron, Carl Perkins and Luther Ingram are a few of the most notable — and the city’s name comes up in more than a few songs. The most famous of these is probably Johnny Cash and June Carter’s rendition of “Jackson,” a tale of two lovers hoping to rekindle their relationship in an unspecified city of Jackson (though it’s hard to tell for sure which Jackson the song’s writers had in mind, Cash’s relationship with the state of Tennessee makes me think he, at the very least, had Jackson, Tennessee in mind when he covered the song). Another example, which is coincidentally even more morbid than Scott-Heron’s, is Sonny Boy Williamson’s “T.B. Blues,” which is exactly what it sounds like — a song about dying from tuberculosis — with a narrator who is asking to be buried back in his hometown of Jackson. In each case, the city is portrayed as a refuge, somewhere to go to either recharge or retreat. That’s a lot of musical history for such a small town, and it’s hard not to think that the place wields some sort of special power over its musically inclined residents. Take a listen to Gil Scott-Heron’s “New York Is Killing Me” below and decide for yourself… is Jackson a musical nexus, or should I pack up my collection of crystals and admit to myself that the pouch hanging around my neck does not actually house the spirit of Jerry Garcia? Whichever you decide, I encourage you to click here and snag Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here. No new-age beliefs required, I swear.
Gil Scott-Heron — “New York is Killing Me“