within me; with Louis Armstrong one half of me says, "Open the window and let the foul air out," while the other says, "It was a good green corn before the harvest." (438)
Now the "green corn" motif comes from a Leadbelly song and refers to a state of innocence before the harvest of experience. Innocence is beautiful but it carries dangerous naivete with it--a naive skin that our hero sheds.
But first of all the hero hears a lyrical line from the man who makes poetry out of invisibility, Louis Armstrong, a song which suggests the sophisticated, toughened shape the hero's perception of reality has taken on out of the furnace-like bad air of passion and conflict which has been his experience throughout the life of the novel. The line refers to a song by Buddy Bolden which Louis Armstrong--also known as Dipper Mouth and Bad- Air--used to sing:
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say,
Funky-Butt, Funky-Butt, take it away,
I thought I heard somebody shout,
Open up the window and let the foul air out.
The Funky-Butt was a powerhouse jazz night club in New Orleans, where the solos on the horns were as furious and glorious as the sex act itself, filled with bad air and ecstatic charges, savage thrusts and stellar flourishes. Armstrong, as a kid of ten used to stand outside the door of the Funky-Butt and listen to Bolden, the great jazz trumpeter who ended up in a madhouse, blowing and singing and wailing. Bolden would sing the song in tribute to the funkiness and the foul air in the dance hall caused by the jelly-tight dancing.
Without the liberating bad air, that riffs through the chamber of the good-bad horn of plenty (which also resembles the chamber from whence all life emerges) you can't have the real music of life, nor the dance. For as the hero comments,
Of course Louis was kidding, he wouldn't have thrown old Bad Air out, because it would have broken up the music and the dance, when it was the good music that came from the bell of old Bad Air's horn that counted. (438)
From The Carleton Miscellany XVIII, 3 (Winter 1980), 82-97.