Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Blues

Joe "Blue," bringing down the house
When it comes to music, I prefer long ballads and poetry.

But I married a blues musician. Our first years of wedded bliss included dancing every weekend -- with me thinking, "You're not going to repeat that line again, are you?"

The structure of a blues song is so simple it seems cruel. Usually there's nothing more than three stanzas with two repeating lines, followed by a third line -- that replies to the repeating line!

It's enough to drive a novelist straight into the arms of William Faulkner.

But a funny thing happened on the way to growing up: My appreciation for The Blues has deepened every year.

Rock music can obscure any shallow sentiments with decibels and lightning guitar licks. Folk singers can pirouette on brilliant phrasing, even if there's no feeling involved. Grunge grinds down on despair, proving misery loves company. And rap -- well, let's just say rap doesn't belong in this paragraph about music.

Meanwhile, the simplicity of a Blues song works like an auger for truth. The song's meaning doesn't come from its words or fancy chord progressions. Its meaning comes from the heart, and the repeating lines underscore the sentiment -- sorrow, pain, loss, affliction.

A good novelist can't simply type a book. And a true Blues musician can't just sing a song. The common goal is to reach the heart. Which often requires bleeding in public -- on purpose.

Some religious people describe The Blues as "the devil's music." But I think it's closer to the opposite. It's about those sighs "too deep for words."

Recently The Hunk of Italy and I attended the Washington Blues Society's annual awards show. For the second year running, The Hunk was nominated for best blues harp while his band -- Hot Rod's Blues Review -- was nominated for best band. (By the way, double nominations two consecutive years doesn't means poor supply. Just the opposite. Most states are fortunate to have one blues society. Washington has six -- six! -- grooving the Northwest from the Oregon border up to Canada and across the Cascades into Spokane. From April to October, there's a blues event nearly every weekend.) Although The Hunk lost to the gracious and equally talented Jeff Herzog, it was a lovely night at The Triple Door.

And it reminded me once again why The Blues and the people who play it are so special.

Here's the short list:

Age. Other than the beautiful Stacy Jones, who can belt it out like LouAnn Barton, most blues musicians are pushing 40 or 50. A serious percentage are giving 60 new meaning. And since age generally matures the heart, the older the musician, the better his Blues.
      Take that, MTV.

Tone. Not just musically, but conduct. As wild, individualistic, and imaginative as these musicians are, nobody's shouting a blue streak through the microphone or grabbing his crotch or pulling a gun in the parking lot (although those impulses might wind up in a Blues song).

Men in suits. Zoot suits. Double-breasted sharkskin. Suits as green as parrots. Blood-red smoking jackets. Paired with two-tone oxford shoes. And fedoras.
       Man, it's style.

Finally, most importantly, Truth.

These songs of pain and sorrow celebrate life.

Yes, it's a paradox.

Just like another paradox.

A homeless guy was tortured and mutilated and hung on a cross for everybody else's faults -- and we call that day "Good Friday." Scandalous and beautiful, the greatest story ever told reads a lot like a Blues song. A fallen world, the wicked human heart. A fallen world, the wicked human heart. But God came back, He came back.

Now get up and boogie.

Get up and boogie.


  1. Yeah, baby. I wish he'd won, S. Sounds like a fantastic evening.

    (My protag Joey Parr in The Famous One gets discovered singin' a blues song.)


  2. Thanks, Nicole!

    Sounds like a great scene for Joey Parr...

  3. This reminds me so much about my own relationship with jazz - a musical form I really never, ever cared for and of course married a man who played jazz guitar and had the music on constantly. Less dancing, though, me might have won me over sooner if there was more dancing involved. ;) I've grown to love it, though, and for many of the same reasons you listed here. :)

  4. Robin, that is so funny! Truly, our husbands complete us. :-) Thanks for writing.