Jeannette Lambert

Creative living through jazz & intuition

Improvising and ancestral memory

memory-ancestral

Drawings by Agatha Schwager from her project The Memory Room

Sometimes there are many words for the same thing. How different is improvising, when using lyrics, from stream of consciousness poetry or automatic writing? If dreaming and imagination exist in the same space, what kind of stories can reach us when we are creating?

When I began improvising as a young jazz singer, I discovered that I enjoyed having words to work with, poems I’d written. So I would write spontaneously, usually at a full moon, letting my mind be free and then writing whatever popped into my head. And I would take those poems, lightly polished for rhythm and flow, and jump out of them to create music.

What I didn’t expect was that this beatnik-inspired style of writing might send me into a mystical realm I’d danced away from since childhood. Sometimes I would find my own lyrics puzzling to me, only to understand them years later.

I wrote this poem when I was in my late teens and performed it a few times, notably at an event for Women in Jazz. I was frustrated when I realized nearly everyone interpreted it as a kind of protest song against menstruation. But I knew that wasn’t what I was expressing. For one thing, I never fell down from cramps. Here are the lyrics:

Bleeding again, no end in sight
Bleeding again
Crying again, sore from spasms and
crying again
Bleeding and crying and hurting and minding
falling and calling and bleeding again
this is not my generation
I want no part of this generation
there’s no such thing as generation
there’s no such thing as generation

There was a sense of hopelessness and suffering that asked to be expressed, that I couldn’t really explain within my own life experiences. Being older now and having learned more about developments in science regarding memory being transferred in dna, I see this poem more clearly.

Knowing more too about my family history, I feel that this song expresses the pain and experiences of some of my ancestors during World War II. There were horrors on both sides of my families, with my mother growing up in Nazi-occupied Holland with very little food, and my father growing up through the violence and terror of the nearby POW camps and Bersiap period of Indonesia. They were small children so hopefully were more sheltered, but what did my grandparents witness and experience as adults?

The second part of the song, a kind of conversation, relates directly to ancestral memory.  I was complaining about being sent these emotions and this imagery that didn’t fit with my generation. But the answering call from the other side points out that the notion of generation is false in any case. We are all one and the same and ever interconnected, as is now visible in our traumatized dna. There is, indeed, no such thing as generation.

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