Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Even though Blues music is generally associated with a specific time, place and culture, there’s something about Lead Belly’s sentiment that encapsulates the timelessness of the Blues.
I’m a huge fan of this old music, most of it recorded in the 1930s and ’40s by men who were blind, downtrodden, wrongly accused and had sold their souls to the devil. Scrolling through my iPod you’ll find artists with names like Blind Willie Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell and Furry Lewis and Son House and Hambone Willie Newbern.
However, as much as a traditionalist as I am when it comes to the Blues, I think there are some aspects of the art form that could stand to be updated or at least reconsidered.
Life in the Mississippi Delta in the ’20s and ’30s ” the birthplace of the Blues ” was a pretty specific place with an equally specific set of Blues-inducing circumstances. Working in the cotton fields was a very common job, and one that can surely give one the Blues. Long hours, low pay, grueling heat, backbreaking work, little chance for advancement and not a 401K in sight. You’d actually have to try hard to NOT have the Blues under these conditions.
But now if you’re picking cotton, chances are you’re most likely sitting all day in the air-conditioned cab of a John Deere 7760 Cotton Picker De-Luxe listening to America’s Weekly Top 40 on the onboard stereo. Hard work? Sure. Blues-worthy? Sorry.
I’d think that Investment Advisor would be a pretty Blues-inducing job today. Or being Bernie Madoff’s defense lawyer. Or pretty much any job you had last week and now, suddenly, don’t.
Sexual orientation is not a topic often broached in traditional Blues ” it’s always about as straightforward as it gets. Man loving woman and/or vice versa. But times are clearly different, and this is a good thing. Because when you think about it, the more possible combinations you add into the mix, the more chances for Blues-getting. Really, you can easily graph this.
So, were Lead Belly around today, he could easily have lamented, “The Blues ain’t nothin’ but a transvestite and his sexy Weimerrainer on a weak, bi-curious man’s mind.”
In the early days, the selling of one’s soul to the Devil was a popular way to achieve Blues success. You’d take your guitar out to the crossroads at midnight, the Devil would tap you on the shoulder, you’d hand him your guitar, he’d tune it up and hand it back to you. Then you could play anything you wanted, but the price was your soul.
Not a bad arrangement. Sure beats years of frustrating practice and expensive guitar lessons.
Alas, in the current economy the Devil is no longer interested in buying souls. Recent foreclosures have left him with more souls than he ever anticipated. It’s definitely a buyer’s market for souls, and the Devil is the only one buying. At best you might be able to arrange a lease with the Dark One, possibly a very high-interest Soul Equity Loan.
The upside of this trend is that if you mortgaged your soul a few years ago, now may be a good time to refinance. Talk to your spiritual advisor. Have mercy.
Time was, blindness was the best thing you could put on your Blues resume. But in past years the Blues affliction market has really been diluted. Attention Deficit Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia are all working their way up the charts, threatening to edge out blindness as the go-to Blues ailment. Unfortunately, unlike blindness, these conditions can’t be self-inflicted, so being a Bluesman is no longer as easy as throwing a can of Red Devil Lye in your eyes and buying a white cane. No, if you try to convince someone that you’re a Bluesman/woman it’s like, “Yeah, so you’re blind ” but what ELSE is wrong with you?” Now you pretty much need to go through a series of medical and/or psychological evaluations to reach valid Blues Affliction status.
What? Don’t have insurance to pay for these costly doctor visits? Then you gots the Blues.
Congratulations, and have mercy.