Blues Dues, Stanley Booth

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Blues Dues

By Stanley Booth

“Underpaid and overprivileged,” is how one reporter described his livelihood.  That’s how it’s been with me.  While barely surviving, I’ve hung out with the most amazing characters.  A few years ago, I received in the mail, with increasing urgency, a series of postings that consisted of at least two galley proofs and three letters from a New York literary agent whose client (a regular, probably salaried, contributor to one of the oldest American peiodicals, one named after an ocean), had written a history of the blues.  My collection of blues- and jazz-related pieces, Rythm Oil, had appeared about four years earlier and, according to the agent, her client liked it a bunch.  He wanted my endorsement, desperately, it seemed.

So, finally, I picked up one of the proofs to look it over.  I hadn’t read far before I came upon these words: “The weekend I was in Memphis....”  Unlike many before him, who’d simply bought a lot of blues records, listened to them, and written a book, this writer had made the extra effort of going to the blues museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, passing through Memphis on his way there, thus becoming an authority.  I, who lived in Memphis twenty-five years, going in the course of my research to the city and county jails as a guest more times than I cared to remember, found it hard to restrain myself from hurling the galley all the way back to New York.

They have in Memphis an expression, “blues pukes.”  (BP)  The blues book author (call him BP1) was just one of many who’ve crossed my path.  They come from everywhere, though California, the American Northeast, Europe, and Japan seem to have more than their share.  All BPs seem to suffer from the same delusion.  They think they can vicariously absorb some essence that will permit them to interpret the mysteries of the blues.  The shallowest BP thinks that he is somehow, by divine right, an arbiter of the authentic.  Never happen.  But still people persist in such delusions.

Of course, being jealous of the blues is like being jealous of heartburn.  The truth is, knowing nothing about the blues is preferable to knowing anything about the blues.  Here, however, we run into semantics.  There’s the blues, an emotional state, and there’s the blues, an art form, or a group of art forms.  Believe me, when you’re in the Memphis jail, city or county, you got the blues.  When you’re in your cozy room, listening to Robert Johnson’s plaintive tunes, you’re hearing the blues.  Two different worlds.  But some people, people from Berkeley, or Boston, or wherever, are so highly imaginative that they make a leap of funk and become Spokesmen of the Blues.  No, really, they make a living this way.  People in Dublin, London, Kyoto, Amsterdam, and Lower Slobbovia read them and feel somehow enhanced, enlightened, end manned by the blues.

I never intended to have anything to do with the blues.  They came into my life through my bedroom window when I was a child.  It wasn’t a matter of choice.  What I learned, I paid for in experience at the school where they arrest you first and tell you why later.

Read more Blues Heroes Stories
from the bookTouched By the Blues

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