Notes on Gem of the Ocean (04282021)

Notes for all five sessions consolidated on substack. Click here:

Session #5

I’ll begin with two characters mentioned who show up in subsequent plays in the Cycle. Roper Lee hangs out with Citizen in Gem and shows up again in Joe Turner. Rev. Tolliver preaches the Garret Brown eulogy in Gem and also appears in Joe Turner.

But overall, Gem is Aunt Ester’s play. We meet her as a fully developed character. We find out about her childhood, her children’s names, and even her plans for eventual succession to Black Mary. We learn about her former husbands and current suitors. And Wilson introduces us to her cooking methods, her manner of consulting and giving advice and even her orchestration of the journey to the City of Bones, a process she has obviously supervised before.

In previous sessions we talked about Solly’s day job as a collector of pure, or dog feces. Pure collector is listed as one of the ten worst jobs in London during the Victoria era. Mixing the pure with water makes compound called “bate,” and bate is applied to leather to beak up the fibrous structure to make the leather soft and pliable before the final stage of tanning. I visited rooftop tanning operations in Morocco, but I never saw (or smelled) pure being used. Maybe they do it differently in Morocco.

It’s a bit advanced in the Cycle, but I would like to propose yet another way of describing and analyzing the structure of the plays.

Northrop Frye, a Canadian literature professor, described and analyzed the books of the Bible, and the stories contained therein, in a book named The Code.” As a unified book with a coherent narrative, Fire described the plot changes and development as a “U-shaped Plot” type of comedy, beginning with Genesis and the creation story, followed by a long line of historical disasters and triumphs, concluding with the final victory of the eternal city of Jerusalem at the end of Revelations. The Bible subplots, i.e., the various kingdoms and rulers in the Old Testament, as well as the lives of various disciples, all provide a sort of repetition of images and issues that serve to tie together the many “books” of the Bible, creating as well a sense of deja vu and premonition across the repetitive action and suggesting that the images and issues are “both themselves and not themselves,” suggesting that time itself may be an illusion.

In Frye’s second book, “Words with Power,” he expands his analysis from the internal structure of the Bible above to relationships and interrelationships between Biblical language and thought and the language and thought of everyday life, of mythology and of literature.

You see where I may be going with this.

The decade plays portray triumphs and disasters of families and individuals in the Hill District. In each play there are events that seem to take the wind out of the sails of the characters, especially the protagonists. But in each play there is a little something at the end that suggests that the tide may be turning and the ultimate fate, improving.

There is repetition, of character personality types and of issues, like incarceration, inter-community violence, urban renewal and gentrification, theft of land and refusal to pay an honest wage, and we see infidelity, and distrust, and resentment. The repetition, on the surface, might suggest a deficit of imagination on the part of the playwright, But that would be a very superficial analysis that overlooks the role of repletion as a unifying factor across the decades as well as across the plays themselves

We see interspliced the language of religion and spiritualism and the language of everyday life, augmented occasionally by the language of the blues, Wilson would add, always descriptive of a less than optimal situation, but always celebratory at some level.

Frye wrote about the primary concerns of life, the things we share with all plant and animal life, like food, drink, sex, property and freedom of movement, all embodied in myth and literature. Then he contrasts these with secondary concerns of religion, class, nation, tribe and their concerns, piety, virtue, patriotism, embodied in culture.

We see these issues played out in the alternation of decades in the Cycle plays. Wilson goes out of his way to focus our attention on food, drink, sex (in a subtle way – the plays are never pornographic), and certainly property and freedom of movement. Every play features these things prominently. But there is also the focus, often soft-pedaled, on piety, virtue and patriotism and we can think of plenty of examples.

The long and short of it is that Frye provides us an interesting model to thinking about the plays, but we have to work past the inherent resistance to comparing Wilson’s storytelling to that of the Bible.

Columbia, Gem of the Ocean has its own interesting story twists. Was it an original or was it copied by/from Britannia, Pride of the Ocean? (See Session #2). Was its author Thomas A’Beckett, David Shaw, or George Willig? What is the significance of its 1957 revival in the Broadway hit, The Music Man, a musical about a fraudulent band director and a con man?

One final post-discussion idea is the meaning of the title away from the above idiosyncracies of the song. Perhaps, as someone in the group discussion mentioned, the actual “gem” is the City of Bones itself, and not just the name of a ship. “It is a beautiful city,” Aunt Esther describes, where “the people made a kingdom out of nothing.” What if it’s not the lady with the flame in the Columbia Pictures logo, nor her antecedent in Roman mythology, Minerva, nor her antecedent in Greek mythology, Athena, all representative of Isis, of the great Egyptian pantheon, but an actual submerged city, maybe even the mystical Atlantis.

And maybe, to extend the metaphor even further, the submerged City of Bones represents not necessarily an ancient underwater city, but the promised destiny of America, lost at sea by a mean and selfish sea captain.


p.s. The Youtube playlist:


Session #4

Structure: Gem of the Ocean is one of two plays in the cycle to have a prologue. Why might a play have a prologue?

They say Euripides invented the prologue. He prefixed a prologue to the beginning of his plays to explain upcoming action and make it comprehensible for his audience. Other dramatists in Ancient Greece continued this tradition, making the prologue a part of the formula for writing plays. Greek prologues generally explained events that happened in time before the time depicted in the play. Roman dramatists carried the prologue to a new level, giving even greater importance to this initial part of their plays.

From Wikipedia:

In what is perhaps a coincidence, French playwright John Racine introduced his play, Esther, a choral tragedy, with a prologue with the character Piety as its speaker. The prologue in Gem features Eli, described as Aunt Ester’s gatekeeper and a friend to Solly.

“The actor reciting the prologue would appear dressed in black, a stark contrast to the elaborate costumes used during the play. The prologue removed his hat and wore no makeup. He may have carried a book, scroll, or a placard displaying the title of the play. He was introduced by three short trumpet calls, on the third of which he entered and took a position downstage. He made three bows in the current fashion of the court, and then addressed the audience.

The Elizabethan prologue was unique in incorporating aspects of both classical and medieval traditions. In the classical tradition, the prologue conformed to one of four subgenres: the sustatikos, which recommends either the play or the poet; the epitimetikos, in which a curse is given against a rival, or thanks given to the audience; dramatikos, in which the plot of the play is explained; and mixtos, which contains all of these things. In the medieval tradition, expressions of morality and modesty are seen, as well as a meta-theatrical self-consciousness, and an unabashed awareness of the financial contract engaged upon by paid actors and playwrights, and a paying audience.”

The other play in the cycle with a prologue is King Hedley II, the play set in the 1980’s where Aunt Ester dies.

Aunt Ester is featured very prominently in Gem. Of course, the setting of the play is Aunt Ester’s house, 1839 Wylie, and we know that 1839 refers to the year of the Amistad mutiny, a revolt by enslaved Africans that resulted ultimately in repatriation to Sierra Leone and, perhaps most importantly, in a crystallization of the abolitionist movement in the United States. Perhaps Wilson could have used 1831 Wylie, in homage to Nat Turner’s revolt, or 1859 Wylie, in homage to John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. The difference, perhaps, is in the success of the Armistad versus the failure of the other two. Perhaps.

Interesting that Eli opens the Prologue with the exhortation “This is a peaceful house.” It is a peaceful house every day, but Aunt Ester will only see visitors on Tuesdays. In one of the previous sessions, a group member revealed that in the Yoruba calendar, Tuesday is day three of a four day week and is devoted to the Orisha, Ogun. According to a book about the Yoruba religion, The Way of the Orisha (available online), “Tuesday belongs to Ogun and rituals for overcoming enemies or conflicts are best performed on this day.” We’d love it if Wilson intentionally aligned Aunt Ester’s Tuesday with the Yoruba Tuesday, but perhaps that is just another coincidence. Perhaps not.

Citizen Barlow has just recently arrived from down south and is basically homeless, sleeping under a bridge. Aunt Ester takes him in, gives him a room, and provides him work with Eli building a wall around back. The stated purpose of the wall is to “keep Caesar on the other side.” Caesar is a local law enforcement agent/officer, so keeping him out adds to the sanctuary nature of the house.

Early in Act Two, preparing for the trip to the City of Bones, Aunt Ester instructs Black Mary to “Go get the map.” Following a monologue with Mr. Citizen, Black Mary enters with a quilt that has a map embroidered on it. We can talk about how an embroidered quilt is a type of archive with information embedded in it. Historians have differing opinions about whether quilts were used as signaling devices for escaping slaves on the underground railroad. Interesting that Wilson decided to associate the map to the City of Bones with a quilt. It certainly could have just been a map.

One more tidbit and I am going to close out this “introduction.” William Cullen Bryant is supposed to have written at age 17 the famous poem, Thanatopsis, a portion of which appears is Act Two Scene Two and is echoed at the very end of the play. A year later, when Bryant went away to law school, his father found the poem and submitted a draft of it to the North American Review, a publication still in print. Critics doubted the authenticity of the poem, much like Wilson’s 9th grade teacher doubted his authorship of his paper on Napoleon. Later in life, critics accused Wilson of borrowing heavily from the playwright Arthur Miller, or at least emulating his style. So, as an aside, why is the partial text of Thanatopsis included in the play?

From William Cullen Bryant, Thanatopsis:

“So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

Session #1 notes on Gem of the Ocean

Session #2 notes on Gem of the Ocean

Session #3 notes on Gem of the Ocean (pre-group meeting)

Session #3 notes on Gem of the Ocean (post-group meeting)

Thoughts on King Hedley II

King Hedley II consolidated noted transferred to substack here:

Dear friends: Is it me or do the plays seem to be getting harder and harder to wrap one’s brain around?

I went to Goodreads. All the King Hedley reviews (except mine) seem rather lukewarm, almost as if August Wilson hit some type of slump. I have some ideas.

For one, this play is about the 80’s. And we can remember the 80’s. So perhaps unconsciously, we look for stuff we remember. But our glance returns to us fatigued, exhausted. It seems there’s nothing in this play we can relate to.

Well, speak for yourself, Ray.

The 80’s were a bit of a lost decade for me. I spent the first half punching holes in the water, as they used to say, doing engineering work on deployed submarines and in shipyards. The second half I spent two years at a small college in Florida, having the time of my young life. That was followed by three years on a 30 year old destroyer, trying to nurse an aged ship and an obviously failed marriage, broken by too frequent separations for months at a time and instances of my own stupidity and immaturity. I wrote in my memoir that by the end of the 80’s I was slipping into darkness, to quote the lyrics of a then popular song. It was not a part of my plan. A poetry writing lady saved me from the abyss. A poetry writing man saves us all, perhaps. Maybe. Almost.

OK. Now we begin to see stuff in the play, perhaps. Man, I need some coffee.

The casual references to crime and to committing criminal acts in the play seem both strange and off-putting. King and Mister don’t seem to think twice about selling stolen refrigerators, or even robbing a local jewelry store. Not once does the idea of returning to jail serve as a deterrence to committing more crime, because, I suppose, “we won’t get caught this time.” Silly and senseless. King’s overreactions to petty indiscretions and daily microaggressions seem overwrought.

Aha! At this point we have accepted the status quo.

King and Elmore share their experience of performing the act of murder, the act itself, and how it made them feel. But it is outside the realm of our experience. They no longer seem sympathetic. Even Tonya’s long monologue about the abortion she wants to get (and never does, we find out later) might seem out of place for our sensibilities because either 1) it’s not a part of our experience, or 2) if it is, we don’t want to think about it.

Finally, no mention is made in the play of the crack cocaine pandemic of the 80’s. You think Hill residents were spared the ravages of that scourge? I don’t think so. It is there, between the lines.

Spoiler alert! King wins the battle between revenge and forgiveness in the end. Yet he still dies, he has to die. He’s been wearing the halo and his blood sacrifice is what’s required. He is the fatted calf Stool Pigeon has been looking for. The meow of the dead cat as the final curtain falls signals to us that there is cause for hope. This tragedy is Judeo-Christian, not Greco-Roman. Aunt Ester’s children will find their redemption. It is just a matter of time.


p.s. Here is the YouTube playlist:

Consolidated notes from previous sessions

Here’s my review in Goodreads:

Postscript. More on the death of Aunt Ester

First to clear the air. Notwithstanding the mathematics of Aunt Ester’s age, the arrival of Angolan indentured servants to Jamestown in 1619 was not the first recorded instance of Africans in the continental United States. Ponce de Leon was accompanied by African Juan Garrido in Florida in 1513, in search of the Fountain of Youth. The first group of enslaved African arrived to the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in 1565. 1619 marks the first arrival of Africans to a British settlement.

There is the suggestion in the text of the play from King, by way of Mr. Eli, that Aunt Ester, the matriarch of the Hill community and guardian of its culture, traditions and history, died of grief, with her hand stuck on her forehead. Then there is the suggestion, promoted by the now-spiritual seer Stool Pigeon, that Aunt Ester had to be removed in anticipation of some final judgement.

Either way, the passing of Aunt Ester is a significant turning point for the neighborhood, especially for those who sought her counsel at various occasions, including Stool Pigeon, Mister, King and Ruby.

Aunt Ester’s passing, more significantly, marks a turning point for the Cycle. First introduced chronologically in Gem of the Ocean, Aunt Ester dissuaded Ruby from getting an abortion in Seven Guitars, actively counseled characters in Two Trains Running, dies in King Hedley II, and figures prominently in Radio Golf. Aunt Ester’s Stoic teachings of sacrifice, self-knowledge, and personal responsibility held the community together through many struggles over the decades of the Cycle. Now, in her absence, for those who know, there is curiosity about how the community will survive.

At the closing off the final scene, blood from King’s fatal bullet wound flows into the grave of Aunt Ester’s cat and we hear a “meow” as the curtain falls. There is a suggestion that Aunt Ester may yet be with us and that all will not be lost.

Postscript. Reimagining George Floyd as King Hedley II (and vice versa).

King Hedley is a complicated character. He seems to have an anti-Midas touch, i.e., nothing he touches turns to gold. A good way to understand him is by comparing him to George Floyd, another complicated character. Floyd, like Hedley, was a seeming ne’er-do-well with a predilection for violence and criminal activity. Floyd even exceeded Hedley when it came to fathering five children across the country that he in turn abandoned. He was a failed athlete and a failed hip-hop artist, spending most of his adult life in and out of prison serving eight jail terms for various minor charges and convictions.

Because of the circumstances surrounding his death, George Floyd’s memory has been lionized and the sins of his prior life forgiven and forgotten. Peaceful protestors have demanded stern punishment for the police officer associated with his passing. Floyd’s death has been co-opted by politicians for political fundraising and support for calls to reform and defund police departments across the country.

For NaPoWriMo, I wrote a poem I called “Hedley’s Blues,” highlighting these and other similarities. In the end, Hedley’s unwilling sacrifice provided unforeseen opportunities for renewal for his community. Here is the poem:

Hedley’s Blues

They ask us to require this sacrifice.
Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Blood for blood.
This sacrifice will somehow make us whole,
Cure our ailments, fill the gaps you left
When they sold you down river for a song.
Those who bought you never knew stolen goods
Was all you were, living on borrowed time
And leaving casualties in your wake.
You were the sacrifice, the fatted calf,
your unwilling blood a fitting offering
To the gods. Once. Spilled on the seeded ground
Of hopes and dreams – your intoxication.
There’s no balm in revenge. So there’s no need
For a present value calculation.

Random thoughts on Seven Guitars (04142021)

Seven Guitars consolidated notes transferred to substack here:

Random topics I may or may not have covered in earlier sessions.

The play’s structure with the end up front, followed by the action in the middle and the end at the end is both standard structure for Greek tragedy and a shoutout to Borges, one of Wilson’s principle influencers. Wilson pointed out how Borges tells his readers what is going to happen in advance, yet there is still a sense of suspense. Then it comes about. No doubt this is Wilson’s Greek tragedy play with Borges hints. See more on Wilson’s Greek tragedy structure in Session #4.

We have instances of Floyd’s functional illiteracy throughout the play. While in prison he paid someone to write letters to Vera. He didn’t understand the words in a letter from the prison detailing the procedure for claiming his pay for each day he was imprisoned. Even Red Carter accuses Floyd of not being able to read. It is not a huge leap to reason that Floyd’s issues with his early recording contract could have stemmed from his inability to read. I wonder how he made it through his enlistment in the Army and how he survived the war without being able to read. We see this issue of the impediments of illiteracy in other characters in the Wilson Cycle.

(Note: 4% of Americans are non-literate and 14% are below basic literacy levels. 34% are at the basic literacy level. 52% read under the 8th grade level. These are 2013 levels, from data collected by the OECD every ten years, but levels of illiteracy are sure to rise with the present influx of non-English speakers across the southern border.

Vera describes a dress she was wearing when she met Floyd as two shades of blue or, to be precise, “two different kinds of blue.” I saw this initially as a distinction between the blues of Buddy Bolden, for whom Hedley was named, and the blues of Muddy Waters, the mentor for our bluesman, Floyd Barton. Extending the frame of reference to another Wilson play, there was the “jug-bucket” blues of Ma Rainey vs. the dance music blues of Levee. A short search yields a multiplicity of different kinds and types of blues music, including Memphis Blues, New Orleans Blues, Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, and Texas Blues. Each has its own peculiar sound and its unique performers.

Throughout the play there are various lists of things, recipes with various steps, and categories of things. Included are types of beer, brands of cigarettes, types of card games, little rhymes, types of weapons, a blow-by-blow boxing match final round, types of roosters, and a recipe for cooking greens. Floyd lists seven ways to go.

I was struck by the similarities between Hedley’s tuberculosis condition, the testing and treatment of it, etc., and current concerns about COVID. Sort of brings it up to date. Tuberculosis, like COVID, was not extremely understood in its early days and often patients were “herded” together in sanitoriums to die, much like the nursing home scandals in New York and Michigan. Eventually, the nature of the disease became better understood and medications were developed that eradicated it. We can only surmise what happens in Hedley’s case, though Louise’s descriptions make it sound like it is already in its advanced stages.

Speaking of Hedley, he is the first person we’ve come across who is not from the south like so many other migrants to Pittsburgh. It sets up a different dynamic in personal relations that we see playing out in Hedley’s interactions with other members of the ensemble. This reflects what actually happened with so many black Caribbean immigrants moving to Northern cities and having to interact with a new country, a new black society unlike what was most prevalent in the south, and in many cases, a new religious order. In effect they, these immigrants from the Caribbean faced separate challenges than southern migrants of a completely new society. Hedley makes Seven Guitars a special case for studying the great migration. Another aspect of the great migration not covered in the American Century Cycle, however, is the rural to urban migration that took place within the south and never crossed into northern states.

Louise explains to Vera multiple times that Floyd “just doesn’t know how to do.” Also known as “savior faire,” Louise says that Floyd lacks basic knowledge and information about the way things work. Of course Vera ignores Louise’s warning because she has a pipe dream of “being a different person” at her new destination that matches Floyd’s pipe dream of “making it” in Chicago. Similarly, Hedley has a pipe dream about a future life on a plantation he will be able to buy with money from his dead father’s ghost.

And what is up with Red Carter claiming he once dated seven women at the same time? Red Carter is lying and he knows it. Perhaps this “locker room talk” adds to the flow of the plot. A monologue for the boys in the band, Canewell, Red Carter, and Floyd. Wilson has said in interviews that nothing in his plays is superfluous and everything ties to something else in building the plot.

Ruby arrives and all the men go crazy. All the men. I could only shake my head. We will discuss, perhaps.

Wilson makes a big deal about Highway 61. I didn’t get it until I looked it up. Highway 61 runs along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minnesota. It was a major thoroughfare out of the deep south and the subject of many blues songs. In fact, Bob Dylan made a complete album in 1965, Highway 61 Revisited, that included much of the music and blues tradition. See the playlist for other examples. Interesting that the earliest blues pieces describe trains and railroads, because railroads were the primary method of conveyance. Later, with the development of interstate highway systems, automobiles and highways become the underpinning subject of blues. (Note: Upon reflection, the earliest blues pieces may have focused on walking and shoes and we have certainly seem those themes in plays in the Cycle.)

A subplot within the plot, Hedley kills the neighborhood rooster as a signal that he will kill again, and soon. Hedley confesses to Ruby that he once killed a man who would not call him by his given name, King, a sign of things to come for his (alleged) and Ruby’s offspring in the future.

Session #4

Post-Session #3

Pre-Session #3

Session #2

Session #1

YouTube PlayList

Margin notes from Two Trains Running (04062021)

Consolidated notes from Two Trains Running transferred to Substack here:

Memphis, the cafe owner, has all the answers except why his wife left him two months before. They have four children. Risa, who works for Memphis in the cafe, has an idea.

Prophet Samuel is being buried on a Tuesday. Tuesday in Yoruba is Isegun, Day of Victory or Triumph. Aunt Ester sees visitors on Tuesdays. Prophet Samuel reminds us of Father Divine and Daddy Grace.

Hambone and Risa have a natural affinity. We later learn they both are involved in scarification.

“In some African tribes, it was like wearing your identity card on your face. True, some may hate that, but this was a mark of pride, not shame. In most African cultures, it was a major aesthetic and cultural component as can be seen on sculptures in museums around the world. Scarification patterns on sculptures are not only marks of beauty, but marks of one’s lineage as well, and in some cases protection against evil spirits. Lastly, in Africa like in Polynesia, scarification is more visible on darker skinned people than say, tattoos.”

A man named Zanelli is behind in servicing the Jukebox. He is the “bringer” of music to the cafe, he controls the atmosphere. The jukebox only plays one song when it works, Aretha Franklin’s “Take a Look” (on the playlist). There a several reference to the broken jukebox throughout the play, a sort of sounding board for the general state of things. From Wikipedia:

Jukeboxes were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, particularly during the 1950s. By the middle of the 1940s, three-quarters of the records produced in America went into jukeboxes. Billboard published a record chart measuring jukebox play during the 1950s, which briefly became a component of the Hot 100; by 1959, the jukebox’s popularity had waned to the point where Billboard ceased publishing the chart and stopped collecting jukebox play data.

Traditional jukeboxes once were an important source of income for record publishers. Jukeboxes received the newest recordings first. Theybecame an important market-testing device for new music, since they tallied the number of plays for each title. They offered a means for the listener to control the music outside of their home, before audio technology became portable. They played music on demand without commercials. They also offered the opportunity for high fidelity listening before home high fidelity equipment became affordable.

The invention of the portable radio in the 1950s and the portable cassette tape deck in the 1960s were key factors in the decline of the jukebox. They enabled people to have their own selection of music with them, wherever they were. Jukeboxes became a dying industry during the 1970s, before being revived somewhat by compact disc jukeboxes during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by digital jukeboxes using the MP3 format. While jukeboxes maintain popularity in bars, they have fallen out of favor with what were once their more lucrative locations—restaurants, diners, military barracks, video arcades, and laundromats.

Holloway is a true believer in Aunt Ester, just as Risa is a true believer in Prophet Samuel. Their beliefs seem to co-exist throughout the play. Only Memphis criticizes Risa, and only West criticizes Holloway.

Aunt Esther here and in her other appearances is a true Stoic, advising her visitors always to change the way they look at a situation or a problem. She requires them to throw money into the river, i.e., to lessen their psychological dependence on money as a solution to their problems.

Memphis reminds one of Seth in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone when it comes to “traditional” beliefs, though Seth is the first one to grab the harmonica when it’s time to Juba. To his credit, Memphis credits his victory in court to Aunt Ester, not to his white lawyer. We later learn that Memphis has reading disabilities.

Memphis has a pipe dream of reclaiming his land in Mississippi just like Hambone has a pipe dream of getting his ham. Both misled by false, unrealizable hopes. Memphis sees that pipe dream in Hambone, but does not see it in himself. Scholars compare this the Hope’sBar in O‘Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.

Title cut: Two Trains Running. Ties to Doaker’s reflections on train motion in The Piano Lesson. Stovall, who Lymon was indentured to in The Piano Lesson, sold Memphis land without water rights in Two Trains Running, then led a bunch of men in chasing Memphis off the land and slaughtering his mule.

Mass incarceration = stacking niggers? Still working that one out.

Holloway mentions a little bit of history of Prophet Samuel, who was known as Reverend Samuel before he visited with Aunt Ester. Holloway makes a passing reference to Prophet Samuel wearing robes, baptizing people in the river, and going barefooted. That final reference reminded me of a personality known as the Barefoot Prophet who had a small following in my hometown in the 20’s and 30’s, along with his successor who was known as Mr. Bobo. Here is a bit of info:

The Barefoot Prophet – Elder Clayhorn Martin

Philmore the customer from Jitney shows up in Two Trains selling a property to West.

Does Memphis” criticism of “Black Is Beautiful” apply to “Black Lives Matter?” At least “Black is beautiful” was an identity and not a tautology.

Sterling mentions being brought up in an orphanage, Toner Institute. That orphanage really existed and operated until 1977, when State and county subsidies could not keep up with rising operational costs.

Bubba Boy’s wife overdosed. It is the only drug-related death in the Cycle.

Memphis had a cathartic experience when his mother dies. He cried, things changed, looked differently. He felt he had been “cut loose.”

West visited Aunt Ester and refused to pay by putting money in the river. Memphis visited and complied with good results.

Session #4

Session #3

Session #2

Session #1

YouTube Playlist