Friday, February 18, 2011

Blue Songs

When we're feeling down and out and don't want to talk to anybody, music can be the greatest (legal) comfort in the world. Why, there's even a song with that name "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", a blues standard written by Jimmy Cox in 1923. The title of the song sure seems like the truth when we're wallowing in self-pity, doesn't it? Fortunately, sometimes all it takes is the right sad song to give us the shove we need to get out of our funk.
One of the greatest "blue" songs in this regard is REM's "Everybody Hurts". The first time I heard that song on MTV, I was experiencing some sort of mild melancholy. I won't lie, the song left me in tears and I shut off the TV with a renewed sense of wonder at life and how everybody knows what it is to be sad. The good thing about this song is that it has lyrics that are meant to directly uplift, in contrast to other songs which do not explicitly state this intention but bring the effect about with inflection and vibes- music like the actual blues, for instance. To a person who doesn't understand what blues music is about, they might think they're listening to some downright depressing music when they hear songs by the likes of Albert King and Lightnin' Hopkins. But the blues aficionado knows better.
They know that while the lyrics tell of heartbreak and tragedy, the blues is about healing. It's about giving voice to those heavy emotions that are just too much to carry around. Playing and singing the blues is venting, but it's more than that. It's the proverbial making of lemonade when life gives you lemons, which is all about creating beauty from undesirable experiences. Check out some of Albert King's work to hear for yourself what I'm talking about. If you don't mind the scratchy quality associated with older recordings, check out Bessie Smith as she transforms the darker emotions into the power to belt out some of the gutsiest blues you'll ever hear. Many of these old blues music songs are available as a free blue songs download, since they are old enough to be in the public domain. Other great blues artists from way back when include Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mississippi John Hurt.
Of course, even though the blues is an American song form, the blues exists in other forms in all cultures. You have Hindi blue songs as well as Eastern European and Middle Eastern blues. Sometimes, not understanding the words can make you more sensitive to the nuances and energy of a song. It's a really great experience to feel that common bond with people from all around the world as you listen appreciatively to their version of the blues.

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