I'd like to welcome Alliance members to the August book club discussion of Deep Blues. As a general structure I'll suggest we focus on Chapters 1 (Introduction) and 2 (The Genesis of the Blues) during this week, Chapters 3 and 4 during the 2nd week, Chapter 5 during the 3rd week, Chapter 6 during the 4th week, and Chapters 7 & 8 during the last week of the month. Naturally, this will be a loose guideline and everyone is free to ask questions and offer reflections that don't necessarily fit into the chapter structure outlined above.
The primary focus of the book is the interaction between psyche and the music of the blues. The music itself is about hearing and resonating with the pain, suffering, joy, or sadness in the voice of the blues singer. The understanding of the blues comes through the direct experience of the music rather than through the intellect.
The word “blues” is derived from the term “blue devils” which referred to contrary spirits that hung around and created sadness. I believe it is the capacity of the blues to speak at an archetypal level about universally felt experiences that give power to the blues for both the performer and the audience.
Understanding the blues is similar to a perspective about images offered by Carl Jung - "Image and meaning are identical . . . the pattern needs no interpretation: it portrays its own meaning." In light of this, my aim is to let the musicians speak for themselves as much as possible. To facilitate our experience and discussion I plan to include links to audiovisual excerpts of blues performances to highlight the material being discussed.
To kick off our discussion I'll offer a video, recorded in 1966, of Chicago blues great Howlin Wolf (aka Chester Burnett) who offers his definition of the blues followed by a performance of How Many More Years. Howlin Wolf was a large, intimidating character who stood 6'6" tall, weighed nearly 300 pounds, with a deep growling voice.
After viewing the Howlin Wolf video, I'd suggest we begin with our reactions to the Wolf's comments and offer some of our own personal experiences with blues music.
I appreciate your participation in this discussion group and look forward to hearing your comments about blues music and the book Deep Blues during the coming month.
Seems as though we're starting out rather quietly. I'll go ahead with some additional comments and see if that stirs anything.
To introduce a little background to the blues let's examine the origins of the blues. The early influences of the blues originate in West Africa, transported to America by African slaves. In West Africa there is a term, griot, which is used to refer to a tribal singer but also refers to a tribe's archive of musical stories which preserve the tribe's history and culture. The blues carries on this tradition of musical lore with timeless songs that are continuously remade because of the emotional depth and wisdom that they possess. The griot singer commonly accompanied himself on an instrument referred to as a halam or, in other African dialects, the banjo. In the video excerpt below you can hear the monotone drone of their one stringed instruments which remains an important characteristic of Delta blues. Also present are the call and response patterns between singers that became a common characteristic of the African-American church.
By the second generation those African songs were quickly being replaced by work songs with the difficult conditions of their harsh new environment as the focus. These songs, often referred to as arwhoolies, eased the passage of time during work and helped coordinate their collective efforts. Arwhoolies also became adapted to the work life in prisons and on chain gangs as seen in the video below.
As we can see the blues originated in experiences of trauma, oppression, and enslavement but these experiences are transformed through the creative act of singing and playing music. What implications does this have for dealing with our own individual suffering?
Hi Folks. Feel free to participate in the discussion even if don't own the book or haven't read it. The blues is a very visceral music form and your intuitive responses to it are welcome. I encourage you to share any experiences you've had of the blues or thoughts you have about the connection between the blues, Jungian psychology, or shamanism.
For me, one of the most powerful experiences is seeing/hearing/feeling the music live and up close. In my opinion, blues aren't meant for the concert stage - it should be experienced up close and personal. That is where the sense of a shared unitary reality comes through most powerfully - where the distinction breaks down between my emotions and the singer's emotions. This is well displayed in the following 8 minute film of Junior Kimbrough, a unique North Mississippi Hill Country bluesman playing the song "All Night Long" at his own juke in Chulahoma, Mississippi. The non-verbal, bodily channeled communication/interaction between Kimbrough and his instrument, Kimbrough and the audience, among band members, and within the audience is subtle but moving.
Hi everyone. Mark, thanks so much for sharing this link above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-Taae2zLfA. What a remarkable experience to be able to watch the musician play in such an intimate way! The feeling I really had about the whole thing was linked to Eros--that Greek god who is the great connector. When you see how Junior relates with his other band members, his audience, and even his guitar, I have the distinct impression they are all in this web of connection that just goes on and on.
And--I know you're making the link to shamanism as well. I can only imagine if I feel myself to be in an altered state of reality by listening (watching) this--and I do--then it's also easy to believe that Junior has crossed a threshold into an alternate reality and entered a state of ecstatic trance just as most shamans do.
What does everyone else make of this? Do you see/feel a connection between blues--or even other music--and ecstatic trance or non-ordinary states of reality? What images come up when you close your eyes and listen if any?
Mark. Thank you very much for sharing these amazing videos. It is hard to discuss the effect of blues on a social media platform without first "tuning in" to the gut wrenching rythm of this magical music. And whenever I do, I am struck by the extent to which blues so quickly seems to permeate my soul. It seems to never start--you begin your listening in the middle, and you never want it to end either. A delicate balance between sadness and hope, the sweet dance between promises and defeats, life and death. Blues is not just music it seems, but molecules of sounds flooding our brains.
Christophe - the blues does indeed quickly permeate soul - I refer to that as the immediacy of the blues - which bypasses our intellect and speaks directly to our heart and to our body. The rhythm is certainly an important driver of the music and often there are polyrhythms within a song which play off of each other - dialoguing within the song. Micky Hart - drummer for the Grateful Dead - offers his own creation myth based on rhythm - "In the beginning was noise. And noise begat rhythm. And rhythm begat everything else." The blues, being fundamentally based - rather than melodically based as is the case with most forms of Western music - appeals to us and speaks to us through a somatic channel - as you point out - it's molecular.
Welcome Mark, and it's too bad we've lost a third of August without discussion on this topic. What a rich and juicy concept! For everyone in the Book Club, if you're even thinking about it, jump in and make a comment or ask a question. I have been equally busy and time has gotten away from me, but it's not too late!
Also, if you haven't had a chance to listen to the interview Mark did last month for Depth Insights radio, "Deep Blues..., check it out now.
Mark is both a Jungian analyst and a Blues musician as well and his capacity to tune into something very profound because of this unique combination definitely comes through in both the interview and the book!
Thanks Mark and Bonnie,- getting used to the local system. I've ordered the book through amazon - it usually takes a few weeks to come to Australia! I just watched Howlin Wolfs video. I'm a 56 year old Aussie of 'yugoslav' background - so of course I've listened to the blues since I could own an LP - I found this 1930's blues guitarist [ can't remember his name but I can see the album and I still own it -] a local record store back in 1970? or there abouts and haven't stopped listening since!
I react the same way as when I listen to portugese fado, or the now deceased Argentinian Maria Sousa, or the screaming clarinets, drums and violins of deep balkan beats. The connection to deeply felt grief at the inexorable - the things we can't change and barely want to recognise .
the resonent tone that indicates a flood of hormones? that would be too reductionist but biologically correct? I'd rather sing and clap my hands and be healed in the process! and it is the process that can be liberating and connecting, but the danger still exists to remain stuck in the grief, so if this can be recongised and given free expressive form - human form - it can be recycled?
I like the way you used the word "recycled" - that is certainly a good way to describe the process of transforming one's grief, sadness, or oppression into something different - taking something old, familiar, possibily worn out and making it something new or different through expression, creativity, and "working through."
I had a similar reaction as you when I first heard Portugese Fado music - I thought "that's the blues!" It is so moving and expressive even though I don't understand the content of the words but it connects at that gut, visceral level.
Finally, as an Aussie, I hope you're familiar with a band called Collard Greens and Gravy. I had the pleasure of running these guys around Memphis, TN, USA when they were over here for the International Blues Competition that is held annually on Beale Street.
Since Sandy has returned us to this thread, I thought I might point out an example of Portugues Fado music. This clip of Amailia Rodrigues highlights the intense emotionality of Fado that to my ear strikes has some similarities to the blues - not necessarily the structure of the music - but the deep emotional commitment to the moment and feeling being expressed. This level of emotional commitment places it more in the realm of spiritual experience than it does "performing."
Thanks for this discussion Mark and Bonnie.
I agree with what has been said about the blues here, and see it as my Shadow self. When listen to blues, it is inside of me, a sometimes scary place that is almost undefinable. Dancing seems to sooth my soul, but even then when I get too much the grief is overwhelming.
Sharing my local blues band, an almost every Monday evening experience:
And my fav tune:
Cheryl - thanks for sharing the videos of the Bryan Dean Trio. I really enjoyed the way they seamlessly weave in a number of jazz inflections into the music - underscoring the close relationship between blues and jazz. It appears from their bio that they've made the pilgrimage to Memphis, TN for the International Blues Competition - which is really a remarkable event in itself. Hundreds of bands, duos, and solo performers from all over the world to represent their local blues societies in the largest contest of its kind. While there are winners and losers associated with the contest - the real message is in the convergence of energy around the music, the way it speaks across cultures, boundaries, races, and nationalities.
I believe you are right on target with the idea of the blues as reflection of shadow - it helps us access the material of the shadow both individual and collectively. Sometimes the intensity of the shadow can be overwhelming and scary. While that can often happen with the blues - but also at times other musical forms - such as this rendition of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker singing My Funny Valentine. While the song isn't a blues - he sings it from a blues perspective with an aching vulnerability and intimacy that can be difficult to bear witness to. I remember the evening I first heard this while driving alone near dusk and felt uncertain whether I could tolerate allowing those emotions to emerge from inside me.