Recently I have been exploring the world of blues music. Although I have always enjoyed blues based rock music, such as Led Zeppelin, Cream, or Jimi Hendrix, I never fully appreciated the roots of such music: they all ultimately are derived from the blues. The blues are a unique creation of American culture. Born out of the black folk music of the deep south, the Mississippi delta region, and later the big city experiences of Chicago and Detroit, the blues are the foundation of pretty much most of all contemporary, popular music. Rock does not exist without the blues; neither does jazz, reggae, hip hop or other forms of modern music.
What I enjoy most about the blues, beyond the sheer pleasure of the music itself, is the down to earth, realistic nature of the songs. They are about real life: love, death, lack of money, betrayal, fucking, drinking, and all the other hardships of life. And of course there is no one in American society who can speak better about hardship than black Americans, especially those who sang the blues music in the early twentieth century from Mississippi. There is the ancient myths associated with blues music too, such as the legend that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. To this day, blues, and all blues based music, are still considered by many to be the devil’s music. Religious types still condemn them, as well as rock, as being degenerate. Yet it is precisely this degeneracy that I enjoy in such music. In short, the blues are messy, just as sex and love and life is messy. It is life, stripped down from all its artifices and pretension, and distilled to what is essential, what often drives us along the our different paths. I always enjoy exploring what lies behind the socially acceptable veneer of our society, to see the reality of how people actually live and think and behave, the lies and deceits and hypocrisies in which so many people are trapped. How many affairs are going on out there? How much money is being stolen? How much desperation exists? How many children are not actually the children of those poor, ignorant, cuckolded husbands, but the lovers of their bored girlfriends and housewives? Such scandalous situations, such comical desperation of those consumed by desire, is an endless source of blues music. Such music speaks well to a completely jaded cynic such as myself. I love it.
A lot of peoples wanna know, “what is the blues?”…I hear a lot of peoples sayin, “the blues, the blues”, but I’m gonna tell what the blues is. When you ain’t got no money, you got the blues, when you ain’t got no money to pay your house rent, you still got the blues…A lot of people talking about “I don’t like no blues” but when you ain’t got no money and can’t pay your house rent and can’t buy you no food, you damn sure got the blues. If you ain’t got no money, you got the blues, cause you thinking evil…that’s right, anytime you thinking evil you thinking about the blues…Howlin Wolf.
The above clip is an old film of Howlin Wolf. Born out of the Mississippi Delta experience, and later part of the Chicago blues scene, he became one of the great inspirations for the British blues bands such as the Rolling Stones, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. I had never really heard his music before until recently, but now, after having heard it, I can only appreciate how much more powerful this older music was than the completely fabricated and mass produced, corporate junk that passes this day for most popular music. Justin Bieber or Howlin Wolf? There is simply no comparison.