Sunday, December 31, 2023


 Manifesto & Supermanifesto 2024 begins with the most unexpected development of my career. On November 27, University Press of Mississippi released my nonfiction book Poor Gal: The Cultural History of Little Liza Jane. This capped an intensive six-year research process into the most important folk song in American history. Aside from all the stunning historical information I absorbed as well as learning so many “Liza Jane” songs that now regularly dance inside my head, I developed quite a bit as a writer. It was important to step out of my “creative writing voice” and into a realm that was far more important than “me.” For once, I did not find myself trying to write poetry or fiction by depending upon “my own legend.” Instead, I functioned as a conduit for “Liza Jane” to tell its estimable story, one that reminds us of our shared humanity.

I could not have written Poor Gal without significant mentorship by a bloke named David Evans. A two-time Grammy winner, musician, professor emeritus, author, and blues ambassador, David provided patient, old-school guidance from the darkest days of the pandemic all the way to the book’s production. I had read his legendary book Big Road Blues when I lived in Arcata, but I should like to note the appearance of Going Up the Country, a 2023 work David co-wrote with Marina Bokelman. Going Up the Country blends an adventure narrative with detailed notes about making field recordings and, at its heart, relays an edgy investigation into American folk and blues music.

I enter 2024 with an ambitious creative agenda. I am hoping to step back to the microphone once again as a lyricist-vocalist with a band. Together with my colleague Emily Cohen, I am / we are still cranking away on a documentary film about “Little Liza Jane.” Emily and I feel a renewed sense of momentum regarding this endeavour (sic). Having seen Poor Gal hit the bookshelves, I have returned (buoyantly) to my “creative writing practice” or rather my “roots” as a writer. On the one hand, this would involve dealing with some shocking experiences—such as the long-ago murder of my friend Warren—as well as rendering myself more “vulnerable” in the presence of my own foibles. 

This too, of course. Not long after my friend (and his girlfriend) were murdered, my brother David Gutstein passed away. He had just turned 27. Over the last twelve months, I have really reflected upon the gift of life. One that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy but my brother was not fully able to: he has been gone, by now, for more years than he lived. He had not really gotten started. I visited his grave earlier this year and it really f****** hurt. Yet this well of emotion cannot simply smolder. It must lead to creativity, community—and earthly love. 

“I hate spending a lot of time in graveyards / We’re all gonna spend a lot of time in graveyards.” I meant these lyrics with both acidic and ironic properties alike. (Obviously, they follow from my admission above.) This music video from Joy on Fire’s 2022 album States of America is certainly titled for the season. The song features a medium burn and a more lyrical presentation than some of the hard-charging songs we fashioned together. Too, John Paul Carillo (bass, guitar) and Anna Meadors (saxophones) visited some fabulous production values on the effort. They filmed half of it in Trenton and the other half here, with me, in the Rockville, Md. area. “Show interest / Show interest / I show interest you” is aimed at you, my friend. Reach out. Let’s talk.

Let us not end the year without some serious geese and gosling action. Have a gander at this here gaggle as they comply with local traffic signage. They do not run afoul of going the wrong way down a one-way, so you can relax, the giant yellow arrow tells said waddlers where to waddle. These fowls are headed to the creek, where they can duck back onto the water. Even as they disappear around the bend, it is not their swan song. These here gooses can be seen regularly in the air as a plump wedge. In fact, they live in the same habitat (where their habit is at) as my best animal friend forever, the mischievous scoundrel known as The Fox.

People ask me have you seen The Fox? Well, yes I have. She is quite robust. Rusty red. Full of mischief. A true scoundrel of the finest calibre (sic). This summer, I spent some time with her before I went to live downtown in a friend’s apartment. Perhaps she sensed that I might be departing for a bit, so we chilled in the shallow woods, enjoying each other’s company. For some reason, the fake Australian accent emerges—“You’re a good lookin’ fox, man”—but she’s a vixen, not a reynard (sic). When she sees me, she has this way of darting a short distance away and then abruptly sitting down. She slays me pretty good with her wily shenanigans!

I’ll never forget the day The Fox let me sit at the edge of the den, where her seven kits flounced about, clearly inheritors of the same vulpine mischief. She brought seven rascally souls into the world!

Notably, in 2023, I vanquished my first chess-bot rated 2000—even as I played the black pieces! I am usually too chicken to sacrifice my queen, but I did so because an opportunity presented itself. And lo, the chess-bot was check-mated. Heh heh heh.

Happy New Year, Everyone! My very best wishes to you and your loved ones.

It would not be a true Blood And Gutstein post without a thumping R&B shaker. You may know Booker T. and the MGs for their hit “Green Onions” but I will take “MG Party” any day. The addition of horns to the classic lineup really clinches this song as a romping dance-floor instrumental from 1964. The infectious, propulsive beat will overcome the proceedings. To wit, let us flounce like kits, let us sacrifice our queens, let us croon at the microphone, let us be mentored, let us tell the kinds of tales that exemplify our connections to one another. Above all else, let us strive for peace and love. This is aimed at you, my friend. Reach out. Let’s talk.

discographical information for “MG Party”
Booker T. and the MG’s. “MG Party” B-side b/w “Soul Dressing” A-side. Stax S-153, Memphis, Tennessee, 1964. Likely personnel: Booker T. Jones (organ); Steve Cropper (guitar); Donald Dunn (bass guitar); Al Jackson, Jr. (drums); Wayne Jackson (trumpet); Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone); Charles “Packy” Axton (tenor saxophone). Compositional credit: Jones, Cropper, Jackson, Dunn.


Ted Zook said...

A real treat, Dan -- thanks so much for such a compelling bookend to an amazing year. I hope that your faithful readers won't have to wait a full twelve months for the "├╝bermanifesto" chapter!

All the best in health, happiness and safety for the new year; may it present many opportunities for you to seize. I also hope that the new year presents opportunities for us to again share the stage. Please extend my best wishes to the amazing folks in "Joy on Fire" -- that was an amazing video that y'all made!

I love Booker T and the MGs!

Anonymous said...

great post. love the fox! the music vid is cool too. happy new year! ~babsy (babette)


Thanks for the kind words, Ted! I'm confident that we'll share the stage again in 2024. Maybe we can do it at an outdoor venue with everyone spaced safetly apart. Maybe we can do it outdoors at Chez Zook? We will do this when the moment is right! Happy New Year, my friend! Continued mending & healing and all best wishes, BA


Thanks, Babette! Happy New Year! ba

tpw said...

You're a busy lad. Great accomplishments, both done and to come---congratulations. All very impressive. Happy New year to you, my friend.


tpw, good sir. thank you for the kind words. i hope that you and your family have a happy final day of 2023 and a fabulous start to the new year! cheers aplenty, b.a.

DUSIE said...

Nice to see you and read you friend! May 2024 be a fabulous year! I have been looking for Poor Gal at Baker and Taylor... will find her soon!... If you're up north come and tell us about her at the library! xo


Thanks for the kind words, DUSIE. I hope that 2024 will be a doozie for you! I shall be happy to regale Northern audiences about America's favorite poor gal "Liza Jane." All best wishes, BA

Casey Smith said...

yer a genius. i'm lucky to know ya.
i thought of you when i drained a 4-pack of aleworks "speedway stout"
b&g forever.


well, i don't know about genius, but i appreciate your kind words. i am however quite jealous about the speedway stout. i haven't had that in years! did it have the vietnamese coffee in it? ffs. casey smith forever! up the swans! yanks out! btw SWA 0 WBA 0 41'. ba

hthr said...

Downright infectious, that is, all that rolling down hillsides in "Happy Holidays" ... Exhilarating exchange of words & music. The phone booth w/ its fractured handset must be an emblem of the culture.

The geese really got me. The fourth adult waddling in during the last few seconds - consolation for a wretched heart. My old dad says never count the goslings, but it's the adult geese, who mate for life (like the barn owl, puffin, swan, condor, albatross, crane & macaw), that bring on the vapors.


hy hthr, yeah, anna and john had all the fun in rolling downhill at the cemetery in trenton. i used to go running in that cemetery a lot because there were scant opportunities to ambulate then and there in trenton proper, except for a little stretch on "river walk" near the casino and the prison, ffs. yes, the final goose really completes the picture. these gooses / geeses are a funny lot. some are alarmists & others are quite chill. they take a while to get aloft but once they're up there it's really quite majestic. a fragile, uneasy detente (?) exists between them and the foxes -- that is ocassionally broken when you (urk) count one fewer gosling. But I think that's rare. I saw the fox kits approach the adult geese who were larger and they were just kind of sniffing each other and so forth. but i digress. thanks for the kind words, and as for waterfowlz, Up The Swans! --ba

Arab Woman Talking said...

Dear Dan, congratulations on your book. I like the music video. And sorry to hear about your friend and your brother. Akh ya ... it hurts, the pain never goes away I think, we just learn to deal with it better over time. And what can we do but what we do best ... May this year be one of great joy and accomplishments. xox


Hi Arab Woman Talking, thanks for the kind words and for having a look at the post. I am remembering (correctly I hope) some similar loss in your own connection and I appreciate your sage words here -- we do "what we do best" in response. I hope that the new year will bring joy and happiness for you. xo B.A. aka Dan