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 RIPOFF OF WALLACE STEVENS

I was enjoying the music

Loud music, sometimes

When everybody in the band landed with the drums

On the same beat

Such a powerful pulse of air was produced

It hurt

The music wasn’t the rhythmic pulses of air

Nor would it be cathode-ray oscilloscopal wave forms

Nor was it resonating vibrating ear cilia

Maybe it was the electric synapse lightning-flowing pathways of sparks

Of the brain,–some people think so

The cascades of my emotions

Grooving like air pulses can’t

Grieving in the blues

Thrilling to the guitar licks

Loving the ensemble harmonious sound and the beat

As no oscilloscope can

Movements of my soul

Undulating to what is now music

Is the music

CALENDAR AND SOUL

And the calendar marks another

Year, month, day, hour, minute, second

Calendar and clock

Time and the soul’s time

Long ago, a crushed career, crushed future, crushed life, carved time in my soul

Giving my soul relations

Before and after, what I am now, since

Pain

And moments at church camp, church, with pastors, watching the sun, stars, synergy at interfaith

seminars

Mark states in my soul, relations

To the material world

Calendars and clocks

Year, month, day, hour, minute, second

To meaning, moment

Revealing and retreating, manifesting and hiding

Holiness

And Blessed time with a beloved

Grandparent, parent, brother, sister, child, grandchild

Friend, colleague, fellows, congregation

Leaving lasting moods measuring remaining

Movements of the soul

Community

Meeting the world, a world of people

Success, triumph, embarrassment, achievement and failure

Summa Cum Laude, Harvard, Ph.D. articles published, a book, professor, pastor, money, poverty

Personal achievement, recognized success, successes

Status

Time marking—soul and calendar

Year, month, day, hour, minute, second

Pain, holiness, community, status

Measuring, containing, marking time

Age and state

Time and the soul

Another year today

And all that has made me

Epistemology and What Words Are

Words are created by people;

They help us function.

Words have meaning only when

Our experience meshes with the origin

Of any given word.

Then there is the consideration

Of experience.

To Locke, experience is

Inner and outer.

The motions of our soul are inner.

The world we all share is outer.

Words created to mediate what is inner

Confront what is outer.

When they coincide,

We call it truth.

A preponderance of words from what is inner

That don’t coincide with words from what is outer

Is what we call a lie.

Linguistic processes affirm the art of epistemology.

And there is what we call truth.

For those who care.