Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nothing But Blue Skies. . .

I love them sweet blues.

I think the blues get a bum rap because they are associated only with sadness, with loss commonly reinforced by a repetitive 12-bar structure and the often equally repetitive call-and-response of the lyrics, or the four-line lyric structure where the first line is repeated three times and then resolved with the rhyming third line and that repetition can seem morose, like a form of wallowing in grief - But it is in that repetition that the subtly and beauty of the form - the joyousness of it - emerges.

There is joy in the blues. The suggestion of it resides deep inside its lament. Sure, sometimes it is more obvious than other, sometimes it can be noted in the humor of the blues, the hyperbole of sadness that bursts grief and blooms in the form of a smile or the spontaneous hiccup of laughter. (And sometimes the blues becomes a joke, which is okay in small doses, I guess - but too often the simplicity of its structure allows for severely unfunny untalented people to drive it into the ground. It is okay to makes the blues into a joke, but you have to respect it, too - whatever respecting it means). But leaving that aside, there is still joy in the blues. Every feeling has within it the suggestion and reminder of its opposite, and everything we grasp has the potential to be lost - so when we express that loss there is an implicit expression of what it was we had or want again. In a way to sing of loss, of grief, of hurt is to celebrate the feelings whose loss gives them meaning - give them a horizon of significance to be measured against.

I cannot listen to the blues without feeling that, and even longing for something you have never had - might never, probably will never have - is something that total lack is not - it is something that allows for song to emerge. Music makes even sadness beautiful.

I love them sweet blues.

The glissando of blues singing drips with that sweetness, and the cadence of the flattened third, or fifth or seventh brings delicious tension that is resolved with the turn-around from that 12th bar back to the first (though don't let me fool you into thinking that all blues are 12-bar blues, it is just the most common, the most familiar to most people - but blues in a minor key, for example, often is built around 16-bar progressions).

And I love that shuffling rhythm of blues, that feeling like you can just keep walking, like the rain doesn't touch you (it ain't called a walking bassline for nothing).

The blues make me hopeful. They make me say, "This is what life is" and enjoy it - and while that joy may be problematic politically (didn't think I could get through a post here without using that phrase, did you?) it is no less joyous, wonderful, beautiful in the feeling it.

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