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Spoken Like a True Believer

Pop music: Folk-blues hero Mance Lipscomb is the source for Texas storyteller Glen Alyn's content and delivery.

February 08, 1997|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Glen Alyn comes from a long tradition of musical Texas storytellers, although his method is at once imitative and unique. The musician, author, poet and orator, who appears Monday at Cal State Fullerton, offers himself up as a living embodiment of legendary blues and folk musician Mance Lipscomb.

Alyn is the author of "I Say Me a Parable: The Oral Biography of Mance Lipscomb" and an accompanying CD, "Tellin Stories, Sangin bout Suppas." On the CD, he reads passages from the book, plays guitar in Lipscomb's style and recites words from Lipscomb in the singer's own African American dialect. In fact, Alyn wrote the entire book--transcribed from dozens of hours of recorded interviews with Lipscomb--to phonetically match Lipscomb's rhythmic speech patterns.

"I'm totally in support of the Oakland school system recognizing that African Americans speak a different language that they incorporated into English," Alyn said in a recent phone interview from his home outside Austin.

"The reason that I put my book together in Mance's own tongue is that, when I was researching it, I realized that it really is a foreign language, and it is an ingenious language, a poetic language. If you want to know what the blues is about, you have to study the language that it came from--all the imagery and metaphors and counterpoint and history is in the spoken language."

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Lipscomb was discovered in 1960 at age 65 in rural Navasota, Texas, and embraced by the blues community for his vast knowledge of turn-of-the-century American music, from blues, folk and country to vaudeville and minstrel songs. He died in 1976 but has a following among lovers of Americana to this day.

Alyn met Lipscomb in 1970 at Texas' Kerrville Folk Festival and spent nearly five years in his sagacious company, learning all he could about music, history and life.

"I thought I was really hot [stuff] at the time because I was playing 'Helplessly Hoping' by Crosby, Stills & Nash on the guitar. I thought, 'Well, that's really special,' " Alyn said with chuckle.

"Then I heard Mance, and I went from thinking I was a master musician to somewhere below kindergarten.

"I had one guitar lesson from Mance the whole time I knew him," Alyn reminisced. "He said, 'You ready for your lesson?' Then he got out his guitar and started playing. The lesson was him playing nonstop for about five hours and me trying to keep up with [him]! There's stuff that comes out of my fingers even today that came from that lesson, even though I couldn't play it back then. It was a pretty amazing experience."

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Alyn, 50, also performs original songs in concert and reads poetry from his upcoming anthology, "Huckleberry Minh: A Walk Through Dreamland." The book, to be published later this year by Pecan Grove Press, recounts his experiences as an Army corporal in Vietnam from 1969 to '70.

Although Alyn has also written and spoken on subjects ranging from farming and ecology to history and river rafting, Lipscomb and Vietnam appear to be the two subjects that most inform his work and philosophy.

"I've had a few human beings who really made a difference in my life, and Mance was one of them," he said. "Mance was somebody who really transcended hatred. I saw the Vietnamese people performing genocide with our technology and our unspoken approval, but I still believe that love is stronger than hate.

"That may be an oversimplified cliche, but I don't care. Mance showed me. With his background, he had every reason in the world to hate every white person he came in sight of, but he didn't. He treated everybody the same, and that's the kind of world I'd like to live in."

* Glen Alyn performs Monday at Cal State Fullerton in the Humanities-Social Sciences Building 100, 800 N. State College Blvd. 8 p.m. Free. (714) 773-2414.

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