To the casual consumer, the Blues might seem unsophisticated, and maybe bygone. At a concert or on an album, most songs will follow the I IV V progression, and without too much perceived variation. Now, I am a fairly sophisticated consumer of music and I know that to not be the case. However, my recent visit to Clarksdale gave me an entirely new context for the depth and the backbone of the art form.
- Depth: The history of the music, especially the struggle from which it was born, tells a story of unprecedented perseverance, defiance, and hope in the face of serious adversity and danger. How the music was conceived, consumed and how it survived to become “the mother of all modern music” is simply a miracle.
- Backbone: It might not be an exaggeration to claim that any modern popular music project that has found success – genre and act – has borrowed heavily from the Blues. All the art forms we have enjoyed over the years, including Rock n Roll, Jazz, Country, Heavy metal, Blue Grass, Hip Hop, RnB, and whatever the kids are doing these days… are carried on back of the Blues. The art form is resilient, pervasive, and timeless.
There is something transformative about engaging with the source that is often experienced through wrestling with contradictions. When Murray and I drove into Clarksdale, my first words were “Oh my(!), the birthplace of the Blues is in terrible shape. It’s finished.” Most homes and buildings in town where run down or abandoned and boarded. We ate lunch at the only restaurant that was open in the entire town. However, when we were leaving, I learned that the town’s newest rising star KingFish Ingram had just won a Grammy and was now traveling in Europe to play with the Rolling Stones on some tour. And, since then, I haven’t stopped thinking why it is that a people and a place that have given us so much seem to have received so little in return.
I am desperate to engage with anyone with a compelling philosophy for this phenomenon that is increasingly true in societies everywhere: that the people we really depend on and often label as “heroes” — veterans, teachers, farmers, artists, firefighters etc., are growingly becoming the most vulnerable economically.
Our visit wasn’t primarily cultural. We traveled to learn about a new business from the region with potential to become a category leader in a massive industry while simultaneously reviving the local economy. Stay tuned…