There was no other artist, in any field of music that could elicit the sounds from a simple string instrument in the way that Pickin’ Cotton could do. Yet, he revealed the secrets of his technique to no one. In spite of the popularity of his unique sounds, Mose remained relatively obscure. Few radio stations, beyond the reach of black radio, carried his work. And, it seemed, that satisfied Mose. As time passed, he did venture further afield from his beloved Louisiana, to play in nightclubs, bars and many back yards across the mid-south and into Chicago, but Mose preferred to be at home, in the swamps, isolated from the human world.
Sonny Pickin’ Mose Cotton had a secret, and it was a secret that was best kept where it originated: in the swamps and backwoods of Louisiana. No, it was not one of THOSE secrets. But it was huge, nonetheless. Sonny had a secret relationship, one that none of his friends knew of, and, certainly, one that no woman knew anything about. Clandestine, it had been Mose’s intimate liaison for three decades, since he was less than six.
Deep in the woods and waters, Sonny met daily, even hourly with his intimate muses, for there was more than one. There were tanagers and vireos, flycatchers and phoebes, doves and kingfishers, parakeets and kisadees. They all sang to him, cooed with him, and played their unique mating calls for his enjoyment. They were his friends, and his inspiration. More, they were his teachers.
As a child, Sonny had developed a special bond with nature, so much so that nature adopted him. When he should have been sleeping, he was listening and talking with the whippoorwills or nightjars. When he should have been at school, he was curled up at the foot of a tree, learning his lessons from the songsters in the branches. When he should have been doing chores, he was digging up worms and catching insects for his feathered friends. In turn, the terns taught him how to whistle, the gulls taught him how to wail, the orioles taught him how to chirp and pluck notes in smooth succession from the air and the doves taught him how to coo. He was one of them.
But there were provisos placed on his furtive friendships. The birds, as one, required that he keep to himself the secret of his repertoire of notes, lest others invade the swamps and dark woodlands, driving the birds from their ancestral homes. Mose was glad to agree.
And he did so, for thirty years. But, fame is an evil siren, and, as Pickin’s popularity grew, so did the pressure to reveal his secrets. Record labels came calling, and, in advance of the army of producers, would-be managers arrived on his doorstep daily.
“Just imagine the money you could have.”
Mose was disinterested.
“Imagine the wonderful things you could buy.”
Mose could care less. He had all he needed.
“Think of the fame, and the millions of adoring fans. Think of the women who would fawn over you.”
Mose reconsidered. He had never had a true woman in his life. It was part of the power of his blues wailings – the cry for companionship.
“You could have your choice of female company.”
Mose thought hard. In the swamps and bayous, every bird had a mate, someone special in his and her lives. Certainly, his winged friends could not deny him the same prerogative! He considered the consequences.
Yes, he would do it. But first, he would make the music company swear to secrecy. Then, he could tell his aviarian friends that he had mostly kept his promise. And so, drawn by the promise of personal satiation, Sonny Mose Pickin’ Cotton exposed to the world the secret of the wondrous notes that emanated from his guitar. To the world, because, in spite of the producer’s promise, the music label had fantastic lawyers, and they knew, better than a backwoods blues man, how to manipulate a deal.
At first, Mose’s music soared to incredible heights. Women, indeed, did fall in love with him, around the world. He was joyous.
But soon, too, fans flocked to the bayous, eager to soak up their own measure of swamp delight. The birds’ homes were decimated, with thousand of winged songsters netted into captivity, where eager and selfish captors tried to goad the birds into relinquishing their secret warbles. All failed.
The whistlers and warblers of the woods knew that they had erred in trusting any human, Mose included. No longer did they commune with him, except for a few conniving ones. The gulls, the vultures, the crows and jays all offered to teach Mose new songs and melodies. And Mose listened, ravenously. But the notes that they taught had none of the magic of the others, and, overnight, Pickin’ Cotton disappeared from the public eye, ostracized by the birds, disregarded by humans.
Sonny Pickin’ Cotton has not stopped making music, though. Today, an old man, he sits alone under his own warped and mangled tree, plucking his guitar. The sounds? Pure, sad, stomach-wrenching blues. Like every other blues song. Except these come from his heart, because Mose now knows true blues. And he wishes he didn’t.
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