Bringing Back the Blues
These times call for the blues because the blues serve as a platform from which one can wail about the shitty hand they’ve been dealt.
If you’ve been living under a rock made out of money for the past year and didn’t know we’re in the middle of one of the greatest recessions since the 1930s, all you have to do is turn on your TV or radio to see that one of the tell-tale signs a recession is back: the blues.
Not only do The Black Keys hold the number one spot for rock album this week on Billboard, but the Ohio blues brothers have also been featured in Subaru, Sony, Victoria’s Secret and a Zales commercials this year. David Lynch told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to drop a “modern blues” album soon. Even my yoga class this week was centered around the ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ soundtrack instead of the standard mantra music.
The advertising world is having to appeal to an audience whose spending has been cut in half and, yes, the blues has always been present in our culture (Elvis, The Stones, The White Stripes), but when has it ever been used to sell engagement rings and underwear?
The blues are back, and some might say it’s because we’ve come across hard times. We’ve lost our jobs, our money and the promise that we can be whatever we want to be when we grow up. Now, we sit and endure. These times call for the blues because the blues serve as a platform from which one can wail about the shitty hand they’ve been dealt. Memphis native and blues legend Alberta Hunter once said, “Blues means what milk does to a baby. Blues is what the spirit is to the minister. We sing the blues because our hearts have been hurt, our souls have been disturbed.” The blues might be about the lowest of human situations but at the same time it offers a relief from all the sorrow.
Popular music is a good descriptor of where the world is at any given moment. We’ve seen this unfold time and time again. Jazz nourished the seedy underground during prohibition, psychedelic rock created a drug induced distraction from the Vietnam War; these music genres did not coincidentally appear out of thin air — they grew out of their situation and what was happening at the time.
In great contrast to our current economic downturn was the booming market of the ‘80s. It was a decade when excess was everywhere and the music followed. It was all about power chords, bigger sound, bigger hair, more girls, more cars and more drugs. It was a time when luxuries became commonplace and when anything worth doing was worth overdoing.
Thirty years later we’re getting back to basics. Less is better, excess is dead and we’ve all had to adopt a “waste not, want not” attitude. The blues are the epitome of basic: they come from the working class, and excess can only be found in the parts about heavy drinking. The blues were born out of sorrow and hard times, but more importantly, American hard times. Hard times that only a fully free and utterly corrupt country like ours could create.