What Is the Blues?

As a musician, I thought that I knew what the blues is.  But after a visit to Chicago, I don’t know.  I had thought that the blues was a feel, certain notes and often a stylized 12-bar chord pattern.  But after my visit to Chicago, I’m not sure that the blues is a matter of musical notes.

My first experience of Chicago blues was the House of Blues.  The walls of the Chicago House of Blues are covered with folk art.  The folk art was powerful, sometimes “abstract,” striking and soulful.  It affected me,  and set the tone for my experience in the club.  One collection of drawings had someone shot in every picture.  One woman had about 20 bleeding bullet holes in her.  There was a Santa Claus dead and bleeding from a gunshot.  There were other artworks that had smiles, grimaces, faces, figures–all carrying a heartfelt message.  In the upstairs concert hall, above the stage were symbols of many world religions with the words, “All Are One” in the central panel.  The stage of the downstairs club had red curtains with a large heart on fire on them behind the band.  The impression I had in the House of Blues was that I was in a shrine.  I even told my partner that this place was spiritual.  The music was part of this spiritual experience.  Heart.  Community.  Togetherness.

In Buddy Guy’s Legends, guitars were hung on the walls signed by the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, B. B. King, George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and other legends.  The MC who introduced the band worked the audience.  He asked where we all came from.  There were people from Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, England, Texas, South Side of Chicago, and other places all over the world.  As people in the audience called out their homes, the rest of us cheered.  The MC made jokes, warmed up the audience and brought us all together.  The music was communal, communion.  Heart.  Togetherness.  The music was part of the overall experience.

I live in Canada, and we have a good blues club here that brings in bands from all over North America and even Spain.  The music here is good.  As good as Chicago.  But we don’t have the bond of hearts I experienced in Chicago.  It’s more like an informal concert.  And I have never felt our club is a shrine.  I don’t know what the blues is.  It may be heart–soul.  Not good notes.

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A CIRCUIT OF CONNECTIONS

Love

Connection

Support, community

Parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents

Home

When it all works

 

And then

 

Vocation, relocation, isolation

Alone, unknown in a strange town

The whole wide world

Strangers, business associates

Stabs at connection

Church, gyms, bars, gangs, the streets

Alcohol and drugs and one-night stands

Unaware

Screams at connection

 

And then

 

Incredibly good fortune,

or Providence

“O Lord thou pluckest me out”

Intimacy, soulmate, conjunction

Love

Mutual

Family again

Support

Connection

Home

After so much

A friend to the whole wide world

KNOWING WHAT LIFE HAS GIVEN

I have the gift of perspective

The gift of years and experiences

The time and capacity for reflection

Fruitful reflection to realize

The fulfillment I have . . .

I have struggled to get somewhere

And with the struggle over I have found myself nowhere

And I have grit my teeth

Steadfastly endured miserable circumstances

I have passed time—years—just getting by

Getting by, not living—quelle dommage, pity, year after year, getting by

Impoverished

Smoking cigar after cigar

Not even paying attention to the life going by

Alone

Hours, years did go by

Alone, impoverished

Then today . . .  and I have fulfillment

When did it come?  For how long has it been?

A calling,–is it that?—music, friendships, love

Volunteer responsibilities, travel, lifelong learning, research work

Fulfillment

Embraced in rich connections

Purpose, position, ownership

Comfort, contentment without complacency,

Community

I have the gift of perspective

Time and perspective and reflection

Giving me wonder at what I have, have humbly been granted

Granted with the time I have

IDENTITIES

We had been noticing them,

Carol and I

The regulars, but who seemed a little off

Dancing—

As if they were balancing on the edge of a cliff

Or swimming, teetering

Dancing in the same places on the floor

Night after night

We guessed about them,

But didn’t talk to them

 

And then I did.

Adoption, foster homes, homeless

High a lot

Flat affect, rarely smiling

Loving

Caring

Biblically literate

An artist

Single parent

Intelligence, intellect

Some talk of Swedenborg

 

I work so hard to attain

Degrees, my condo, car, career, my musical projects

Volunteer commitments

Affections for useful activities

Affections

Sobriety

Effort to learn right and wrong

True and false

And do

 

And yet . . .

The blues bar

Regulars

Night after night

A hang out

A home

Community

Church

Things I Think About, Alone

I eat my Denny’s spaghetti

And try to warm up

Alone

I can always go home

To a warm apartment

Alone

I think of my new Christmas clothes

My new guitar

New electric piano

New fine art print

Collection of ancient coins

They make me happy

Alone

I think of developing countries

Where many do not have such things

In their village

With their families, neighbours, relatives

Community, tribe

I think about these things

Alone