“Blues was my first love. It was the first thing where I said, ‘Oh man, this is the stuff.’ It just sounded so raw and honest, gut-bucket honest.” – Carlos Santana
As American society is forced to observe its ongoing failure to achieve racial equality, and as the nation chugs Pepto Bismol straight from the bottle in anticipation of tonight’s first presidential debate, I find myself listening to the blues. Part depression, but admittedly, part I like listening to the blues.
The names of the blues artists are the best: Muddy Waters; Howlin’ Wolf; T-Bone Walker; Blind Lemon Jefferson; and Big Mama Thornton. (I read a great suggestion for how to create your own blues name using Blind Lemon Jefferson as exemplar. Start with a physical infirmity, add a fruit, and finish with the last name of a president. I’m going with One-Eyed Apple Carter.)
And the titles/lyrics of the songs themselves are fantastic: My Starter Won’t Start This Morning. Call Me Anything, But Call Me. Cornbread Peas and Black Molasses. My favorite line from B.B. King: “Nobody loves me but my mother. And she could be jivin’ too.” Or, this great section from Lonnie Mack’s Oreo Cookie Blues:
I hide ’em in a cabinet, I keep ’em in a jar
For emergencies you know I keep ’em in the
Glove compartment of my car.
And I can’t live without ’em
They git’ me higher than I can get on booze
I got them Oreo creme sandwich
Chocolate-covered crème-filled cookie blues.
But seriously, despite this troubled world of ours, what business does a pasty-white bozo living in Malibu with a blog about optimistic attitudes like me have listening to the blues? Well, it could be that someone who feels the need to create a blog about optimistic attitudes may have an underlying issue or two. And it could be that Santana was on to something and that I’m drawn to something raw and honest, which may be better stated by Wynton Marsalis who said, “Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance.”
That works for me. The blues confronts the brutal facts of life elegantly. On some level, personal, or societal, or whatever, we all have some brutal facts that need confronting, and I would like to do so with elegance, rhythm, and style.
Back in 1939, Big Bill Broonzy sang about dreams he had on his mind that just weren’t true when he woke up in the morning. Dr. King spoke of such unrealized dreams a few decades later, too. Today, as we continue to sing the blues, may we not stop dreaming.
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.