"You're not a musician so you don't get it, Flynn," Emerson explained. "This is the wellspring. This is going back to the source of the hidden river we've been drinking from all these years."
He began pulling out other CDs. "This cat Fela Kuti — he builds and builds like Isaac Hayes and then — boom — he busts out like James Brown! And check this." He opened the CD player and replaced the blues with what sounded like drawing room harp music. "Toumani Diabaté — master of the kora. It's like a guitar with twenty-one strings. Listen to that! Roll over, Leo Kottke, and tell John Fahey the news! Flynn, there's so much to hear! It reminds me of when I was a kid and I first heard Little Richard and Bo Diddley. It's all here and it's all great and it fills me with inspiration!"
I was happy to see Emerson excited by music again. Perhaps he would find a way to incorporate some of these melodic and rhythmic ideas into new songs of his own. Anything that made him want to pick up a guitar and start writing was good news to me.
"We've found the Nile, Jack," Emerson told me as he put on a Salif Keita album and began doing the hippy-hippy shake across his twenty-five-thousand-dollar carpet. "Now we have to sail up to the source!"
"You want me to see if any of these acts are touring the U.S.?" I asked.
"Come on, Jack! This isn't a trip to the museum! You don't discover a new continent by sitting in the map room of the library! I already told Baxter. We're going to Africa!"
We were fifty years old. Should this not be getting easier?
"Who we?" I asked.
"Us we." Emerson smiled, playing congas on his teak table. "You, me, Baxter, and Castro. Men only! We're going to do the whole thing — Senegal, Mali, Mauritania. We're going out there, Jack. And we ain't coming back until we've been vaccinated with the primordial needle of rock and roll."
"Ah, Christ," I muttered, but there was no getting out of it. I had wanted to reanimate Emerson's enthusiasm for music and if it was going to take some pilgrimage into the heart of darkness to engorge his inspiration, well, I just hoped we would not all end up boiling in some jungle stew pot.
Evening's Empire by Bill Flanagan. Copyright © 2010 by Bill Flanagan. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.