Wednesday, May 18, 2016
“The great man say that life is pain, that mean if you love life, then you love the hurt come along wit' it. Now, if that ain't the blues, I don't know what is.” ― Walter Mosley
No one lives a life of pure happiness, it’s all a mixture of ups and downs, pleasure and pain, so whether we give voice to them or not, we all sing the blues from time to time. I love the music of the blues from Muddy Waters to B.B. King to the guy playing a beat-up guitar on the street waiting for coins to drop into his open guitar case. The men and women who give such wonderful voice to these feelings we all have from time to time give us definition and a way to express our sadness, albeit always with a tint of hope that just expressing them will help drive them away. It seems funny to say it, but listening to the blues can make you feel better, lift you up. And they can come from the most unusual places. Hugh Laurie, the English actor most Americans know as the crusty doctor with a limp named House, is an accomplished musician who has an album of blues called “Let Them Talk” that I have and listen to a lot. B.B. King and Tracy Chapman sing a duet called “The Thrill is Gone” that I also like and listen to a lot. Seasick Steve sings of the hobo blues, the blues of the depression and riding the rails. While I never experienced any of that, his songs make it real for me, and I feel like I know, to some extent, what it was like. Most of the blues are about the death of relationships or betrayal by a loved one, and that makes them almost universal for those of us humans who have ears to hear and a heart to break. One of the playwrights I studied when working on my Ph.D. (which I didn’t finish as I left to go to seminary) was William Congreve writing in the 1600’s. Two lines of his you will certainly know, the first, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” and the blues can calm us down and lessen the rage that comes from losing a love, a job, a family, or any of the things we cling to, but have no real unbreakable grasp upon. Congreve also tells us why so many men may sing the blues when he wrote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” Perhaps the saddest thing about the blues is that most often we, ourselves, are the ones who did wrong even if we see ourselves as “more sinned against than sinning.” Still, there is something about the blues that is almost primeval, that strikes us to our souls. When Karen and I lived in Los Angeles we would often go down to The Lighthouse in Manhattan Beach just to hear the blues played by those who had lived them and sang them from their inner beings. Their music touched us then and it touches us now. I’m just saying that sometimes it helps us to hear others giving voice to the pains that we have felt or are feeling. If hearing the blues sung by one who knows them helps you, then listen. I’m sure you can Google or get on iTunes and just sample singers and tunes till you find one that resonates within your heart. The blues should never be a steady diet or the only things you play, but now and then, when you’re alone or listening to group play in a live venue, the blues can make you better. You heard it here, first.