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HACKER

 

   For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a memory for quotes. They circulate inert and benign in my head until some necessary event calls them forward.
   The first time I saw Hacker, back when I knew nothing about him, I came in late, about halfway through the show. The moment I was inside the door, standing on that old wood, I could feel the entire room pumping to the collective, rhythmic movements of the dancers gathered in front of the stage, those 140 year-old timbers in the basement bending, sagging, trying to jump out of their joists.
   As I pushed my way closer I saw Ron bent over that old, duct-taped, Regal guitar, sweating, pleading, crying, stomping from one end of the stage to the other, like a Pentecostal preacher raging out in a language few understand, but everyone can hear and feel.
   Those collected in front of the stage danced with their heads bent to the floor, just like Ron, as though they had to listen closely to hear some Gnostic truth they were desperate to receive.
   I worked my way forward and stood studying Ron, marveling at the honesty and passion that poured out of him, just like all that sweat that tried in vain to cool him off.
   And that’s when the quote, as though it had been waiting for that exact moment to come back to me, jumped to mind.
   It’s from Nietzsche, and I suppose a little wordy and literary for the Blues, but it could have been written specifically for Ron:
   The creation of beauty is envisaged as the response of a fundamentally healthy organism to the challenge of disease. Those who have never faced disease and suffering have no need of producing beauty.
   Yes, what Ron does and is comes as a result of some kind of deep need that no one but Ron will ever completely understand. To me it simply feels and sounds like authenticity.
   It’s a truism that has become a cliche to talk about the pain and hardship that provide the foundation of a great Blues musician. But I’d say that a cliche is a truism applied inappropriately and too frequently. So it’s often difficult to negotiate that line separating insight from ignorance — but not with Ron.
   I remember one time when A.J. and Ronnie Smith and I were sitting somewhere drinking beer and the subject of Hacker came up. A.J. just slowly shook his head and said, “He’s deep, man. Deep, you know what I mean?” And Ronnie, looking off into space, says, “Yeah, there ain’t no cure for what he’s got.”
 Maybe there is no cure. Maybe, ultimately, there isn’t even any lasting relief. If that’s the case then Ron’s poverty is our enduring treasure — our beauty.

 

 
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