Hajb the Mad Poet: Shatter Your Shackles in the Rhythms of Life

Had to totally rewrite this post before sharing. Needed to step from behind my hardwired theater mask of constant, “dry-wit” comedy. Time to recognize and perhaps even heal the the tragedies and traumas of modern Western life rather than continuing to keep them at a happily undisturbed and faux-comfortably subconscious distance.

The mask comes from growing up “Negro” or “colored” in the 1950s in Brooklyn, New York. “Black” was still a lower-cased insult, which I can’t help but remember because just about all of my likewise wisecracking cousins and friends were lighter skinned than I was. My hardwired instructions, repeated like a mantra from day 1, were to go out and do well in a world in which I was not wanted or welcome, and from which there was no place to escape: not even to Africa (where “they don’t want you either”); not even within my own family or amongst my own people. Rather than fall victim to whatever it was that kept plaguing all of us, I was being sent away to find and come back with something we all needed. As you can probably guess, what I was supposed to find turned out not to be “out there” at all. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

I kind of understood then that my folks were really just trying to keep me alive and out of prison; but in retrospect, I also remember my preteen (and maybe even preschool) mind deciding that God must have the answer because people obviously didn’t. I still remember what feels like my parting moment from an all-Black, Seventh-Day-Adventist Elementary School, where I attended first and third grades. I played the starring role in an end-of-year production based on the “prodigal son” parable, which was also attended by parents and families. During the closing moments of the play, my best friend at the time, Joel who played the role of the prodigal son’s father, welcomed me back into the family. Something about that moment has stayed alive in me, as if it were still yet to happen rather than having past…. Another thing I remember about that third grade class was singing spirituals….

Fast forward a little more than four decades to me out in the world and fulfilling my charge. “Hajb the Mad Poet” is one of the pseudonyms I used when making “music” for others, because as the previous post explains, I am not a musician. A couple of Hajb’s best liked compositions were a poem and a song based on the Sufi saying “shatter your ideals on the rock of truth”. The words seemed to fit my preteen hardwiring perfectly. The basic instruction set configured life as an inner minefield. All I had to do was maintain a game face and a constantly refilling shot glass of “dry wit” through all of the seriously ugly detonations.

The poem and song came from realizing that surviving the inner minefield simply prolonged outer existence in a human ecology so intensely and increasingly traumatizing (particularly among the religiously righteous) that it was even more soul-killing than the detonations. Problem was that singing my song and reciting my poetry didn’t help either (not for me, at least). Even a couple of decades ago, managing to feel good (or perhaps righteous) about feeling bad was getting old.

Fast forward a couple more decades to right now. Digesting rather than continuing to regurgitate the Sufi saying changed the words. The concrete sounding but still totally abstract “rock of truth”–which geologists seem to be currently searching for in Anthropocene–has become the totally embodied rhythms of life in the musical expressions of my own “Blackamerican” history, culture, and religious experience. Also, my hardwired “ideals” of success in an increasingly traumatized human ecology are feeling, sounding, and looking (perhaps even smelling) a lot more like shackles.

Anyway, details are in the little web story–A Blues Ecology Gospel of Black American History?–that has replaced just about everything else that used to be on this site, and on others that I’ve had as well. It started out as an academic paper until I realized that ideal was (in my case) one more shackle. So I decided to share the story as a series of posts instead. Bottom line is that the “Black Religion” described by C. Eric Lincoln (1924-2000) provided the direction I needed to look in, regardless of any particular religious doctrine or lack thereof. Now, rather than struggling to imitate the sounds that real musicians make, I’m finally articulating and deeply appreciating the underlying motivation that makes “music” both worth making and worth listening to: detoxifying the human ecology with which we continue to poison the air, the water, and each other.

That’s it. By the way, the little web story is not about me. It’s about the people and the music. My hope is that sharing it may prove helpful for anyone who might happen to have similar or perhaps complementary hardwiring. Bye for now.

Yo Joel. Been way too long. Great to be back, Bro. Swing low, sweet chariot….

Published by hajb

Hassaun A. Jones-Bey is the founder, owner, and entire staff of Peace Jungle Music, Poetry, and Stories in Oakland, CA. The hypothesis advanced in "A Blues Gospel for Anthropocene?" is based on more than a decade of academic research in Black Church and Africana Religion, and in Ethnomusicology.

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