Making the once known known again.
This week marks a bit of a milestone for PopExcavators. Today I have the privilege of posting my tenth article. Ten articles may not seem like a lot to some people, but for a guy like me who gets bored easily, sticking to something for ten weeks is MAJOR. I’ve loved being on this journey with all of you. Your comments and conversation have challenged and inspired me in a multitude of ways.
While reflecting on the excavations thus far, I found myself carrying a burden for those who have given up or lost sight of their dreams. After “The Endless Summer” excavation, I was talking to an older woman who felt that she had no dreams, no talents and nothing she wanted to pursue. This led to more conversations with people who felt the same way. I realized the loss of dreams is a common epidemic and I would like to use today’s article to try and cure it.
As a teacher, I have taught hundreds of kids over the course of my career. Every single one of those kids had something unique to contribute to society. Every kid had a dream. Every kid had a purpose. We adults are simply grown up kids which means that we too have dreams, purpose and something unique to contribute. If we don’t know what our dreams are, it’s not because we don’t have any. It’s because they’ve been buried.
Perhaps you put off your dreams to marry and raise a family. Maybe you sacrificed a lot for your dreams and didn’t see any payoff so you quit. Maybe you figured your dreams were unrealistic so you didn’t even try in the first place. In all of the aforementioned cases, the dreams never died. Again, they were buried.
A friend recently shared with me the music of Mississippi John Hurt. I was taken aback by the brilliance of his music but was inspired even more by his story. Regardless of where you are on the journey of pursuing your dreams, Hurt’s story will inspire you to keep going.
John Smith Hurt was born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893 and raised in nearby Avalon. He taught himself to play guitar at the age of 9, and developed a style that no one had ever heard before. As an adult he played regularly for dances and town events, but ended up making a living as a sharecropper. When Hurt was thirty-six a friend recommended him to a producer at Okeh records, giving him his first recording experience. Several songs were recorded during that two day session, but they achieved no success commercially. Hurt tried to negotiate a contract to no avail. Okeh Records ended up going out of business during The Great Depression and Hurt went back to his life as a sharecropper, playing guitar on the side.
Twenty years later, a few of the songs from that first recording session were included on a national compilation, “The Anthology of American Folk Music.” People outside of Avalon Mississippi began to hear Hurt’s music for the first time and they were blown away. The problem was that no one knew who Mississippi John Hurt was, or if he was even alive for that matter. Using the lyrics to his song “Avalon Blues,” musicologist Tom Hoskins found Hurt in Avalon, MS and made it his goal to share the music of Mississippi John Hurt with the world. Hurt was seventy years old. Seventy!
After being rediscovered by Hoskins, Hurt moved to Washington, DC and achieved national acclaim. In addition to the concert halls and college venues, he was asked to play at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival which cemented his place in folk music history. He got a record deal with Vanguard Records and recorded three albums before his death of a heart attack in 1966. He also left behind a series of recordings for the Library of Congress that have become somewhat legendary.
It took seventy years for Hurt to achieve his dream of being a signed recording artist. How many of us would have thrown our guitars in the attic after Okeh Records went out of business? Hurt could have done that, and I’m sure there were times when he was tempted to do so. Instead Hurt kept playing and getting better. He had a dream.
For those of you who are chasing your dream, let Mississippi John Hurt’s story inspire you to keep chasing. For those of you who think you’re too old to pursue a dream, let Mississippi John Hurt’s story show you how young you are. For those of you who have buried a dream over time, let Mississippi John Hurt’s story inspire you to excavate it.
What do you think of Mississippi John Hurt’s story? What do you take away from it?
See you next week. Looking forward to the next ten excavations!