Sunday, May 17, 2015
Every Day I Have The Blues
The Blues (and, yes, I capitalize the Blues, out of respect) is something I’ve always loved, even before I understood what it was. When I was growing up, the house was always filled with music, courtesy of my dad’s beloved stereo turntable. In the songs of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and all of those other rock acts that emerged from the 1960s, there was a sound that I eventually came to recognize as the Blues. Janis Joplin, though hailed as a rock icon, is nothing but the Blues to me. One of my favorite Beatles songs is an obscure one from the White Album called “Yer Blues.” (“My mother was of the SKY; my father was of the EARTH; well I am of the UNIVERSE, and you know what it’s worth…!”) I never really understood what the Blues was during that time because, well, I was rather young. Plus my parents were never very good at explaining the finer details of things like music to me, much as they loved it. Perhaps they themselves didn’t know. They were young, too.
In my teen years, I finally got a firm handle on the Blues thanks to, weird as it seems, the Blues Brothers. I was struck by the fact that, silly though they were, there was a certain dignity about the Blues Brothers and about the Blues in general that other forms of popular music lacked. Also, unlike Rock, Pop, Rap, or even certain types of Jazz performers, Blues performers only seem to get better with age, as they gain wisdom and experience.
The Blues is also the parent of modern popular music. Sure, a case could be made for Gospel music, but like early Classical music, Gospel's origins are firmly rooted in the ancient influence of religion. The Blues is about humanity, without a specific religion attached to it. Even when it does include religion, the Blues sometimes cheerfully embraces the darker side of religion, with songs about people indulging their sins or making pacts with demons and devils. The Blues does not discriminate. It celebrates humanity and all of its aspects, good and bad, chaste and naughty. It’s this trait that has carried over to all of the children of the Blues -- Jazz, Rock, Pop, Rap, etc. The Blues has even permeated Classical, Country, Bhangra… almost any other type of music imagined. I think that’s another reason I’ve always loved it. For me, it’s always been there, no matter what I’ve been listening to.
So, after years of listening to a music that I loved, the Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, finally supplied me with a definition and with the history of the Blues. I not only came to understand where the Blues came from, I finally understood what it is, at least for me. The Blues isn’t really about sadness and depression. It’s about persevering in spite of those things. I’ll always be grateful to Aykroyd and Belushi for not only helping me understand the Blues but also to introducing me to its long history of artists, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Booker T. & the MG’s, -- and, of course, B.B.King.
I don’t pretend to know a lot about B.B.King the man. I never even had the privilege of seeing him perform, though I do own CDs and MP3s of many, perhaps most, perhaps ALL of his recordings. That I’ve long loved his music is an understatement. B.B.King’s guitar playing always sounded deceptively simple, with many single notes and trills. It always deeply reflected the emotion of the song, whether B.B. was playing a song filled with anger or with humor.
I can add only one modest story to the many tales told of B.B.King over this past weekend. Approximately ten years ago an author that I worked with emailed me from Las Vegas with the message, “Guess who I got to meet last night, in person! The King of the Blues himself!”
Naturally I wrote back, “You met B.B.King? Where? I’m JEALOUS!”
The author had won a contest allowing him to meet B.B.King after a concert. Upon finding himself in the presence of B.B., the author, himself a well-known man, fell upon his knees in respect for the great monarch of Blues music. B.B. apparently chuckled, told his subject, “You may rise,” and then smiled warmly as the author gushed his undying admiration for B.B. and his music.
I’m not sure how I would have reacted to meeting B.B. Whenever I meet celebrities, I tend to nod politely at them and leave them be, unless I have to conduct business with them -- and then I’m pretty much nothing but business. However, B.B.King was the much deserving KING of the Blues, my favorite form of music -- so I may have completely lost it in his presence for all I know. All I can state is that I am grateful for B.B.King’s music, for his artistic generosity, and for his long, active, and ever-musical life. ‘Bye, B.B., and thanks for being such a grand, glorious, and worthy monarch.