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Why Blues
seagull
kimberlywade
When i gave this piece to my husband to read last fall, he said, "You should carry this around with you, and when people ask you what you do, hand it to them."
Why Blues
by
Kimberly Todd Wade

            In On Highway 61, Dennis McNally writes, “…the real nexus of current blues revisionism is located in the ongoing argument over the career of poor Bob (Robert Johnson), and the conundrum of why a man who sold so few records to black people could be such an object of fascination to white people thirty years later in the 1960s, and remain so some fifty years further on…Where does an interest in the culture of the Other cross from interest to exploitation, from admiration to a demeaning worship, from curiosity to worship of the exotic, implicitly another form of domination?” [1]
            These sorts of questions could only be asked by someone who does not play guitar, because the answer for “Bob’s” continued popularity is that he was a great—even fascinating—musician.  Why is the fact his records didn’t sell much to his black contemporaries even relevant?  Audiences are notoriously poor judges of good musicianship, of art in general, preferring novelty over quality.  What’s popular is often not what survives or what is appreciated by later generations.  Some art is of the moment.  Some is timeless.  You find out what is timeless only after time has passed.  Add to this that Robert Johnson made only a few records and died shortly after making them.  Those records were recorded near the end of guitar blues’ popularity.  They may have sounded passé to ears who’d been listening to guitar blues on records for a decade or more, but to the fresh ears of those who came thirty years later, Robert Johnson’s blues is revelatory.  Where’s the surprise in that?  He may not have been a great innovator of the blues, or even particularly original, but his mastery of the form is undeniable.  His music is a perfect synthesis of his influences.  For anyone unfamiliar with his influences, it can’t help but hit like a tidal wave.
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