March 11, 2010

More And More People Got Them Ol' Blues


Do we have the blues? Well, so many people are peeing Prozac that it is in water supplies now in trace quantities. Yes, more and more so-called regular people are learning what Old Man Blues is all about. Once the music of the cotton fields on the Mississippi Delta, the blues haunting tunes, and that old gitchy feeling that goes with them, seem to be on the move.

Alan Lomax, folk historian extraordinaire, in his book The Land Where The Blues Began describes this feeling as a "melancholy dissatisfaction" resulting from "the sense of being a commodity rather than a person". If you doubt this applies to all of us today, remember - you ceased being a citizen a long time ago.

You are a consumer now, and your function is obvious. "Resistance is Futile", Borg-like capitalists and the governments that support them tell us. No wonder we are increasingly bummed out. We are promised everything, but end up with nothing.

In the age of MicroSerfs and falling wages, unemployment and unregulated greed, things are feeling more and more like a small southern county with a Big Daddy sheriff making sure all his marshmallowy "boys" are getting what they think they deserve. The other 90% of us don't say anything... until the good ol' boys drive away, that is. Not only are we getting bummed out, we are getting pissed off, too.

Lomax goes on in his preface:

Our times today are similarly out of joint, similarly terrorized. Technology has made the species rich and resourceful as never before, but the wealth and the resources rest with a few individuals, corporations, and favored nations. Most earthlings, most nations, are distanced from technological luxury, and that imbalance is presided over by armed forces capable of destroying the planet itself. Rage and anxiety pervade the emotions and the actions of both the haves and the have nots. And the sound of the worried blues of the old Delta is heard in back alleys and palaces, alike.

Alan Lomax spent years touring the south recording music and meeting the people. He knew of their hardships. Any yet, while touring around a bustling, vibrant black business district one day, he came to an important realization:

We had grabbed off everything, I thought, we owned it all - money, land, factories, shiny cars, nice houses - yet these people, confined to their shacks and their slums, really possessed America; they alone, of the pioneers who cleared the land, had learned how to enjoy themselves in this big, lonesome continent - they were the only full-blown Americans.

Blues music was born among the people, simple folks that dug the earth and worked under the sun. People that often lived with less than enough under difficult conditions. But what beauty came from the Delta experience. An enduring beauty that caught on and was widely imitated by white performers.

But they only imitated the music, and not so much the lifestyle. But it was the lifestyle, the simple, basic things like community and being grateful for what you've got that inspired a totally unique way of dealing with the constant difficulties of oppression. The people played and sang and tranced out on porches up and down the dusty roads of cotton country. This music could never have been born in the suburbs of mainstream America.

Alan Lomax was right, it is the simple folks that can truly learn what the unencumbered life is all about. More and more of us are beginning to understand this, some by choice. The blues moans and wails and sweats and shakes, but it is also an antidote to our ills.

We will learn the benefits of our new reality while changing things in the process, and who knows what will come of it. Rest assured that Son House, Robert Johnson, Willy Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and others will be there to help console and inspire us along the way.

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