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Monday, March 23, 2009

Lesson 6: Let Music Lift Your Spirit and Soothe Your Soul

Albert King

Albert King

"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.
-- Alberta Hunter."

Listen up. You've been in a crisis. Having gone through the normal mental process of adjustment (lesson 1), gotten to the point where you can see positives from your situation (lesson 2), developed perspective (lesson 3) begun seeing family and friends (lesson 4), you're beginning to feel better about yourself, your family and friends too. You're beginning to believe and have a little faith in humanity...in yourself (lesson 5). Once in a while you may drink a little too much, and, on occasions, you may need to take a pill to sleep, but, for the most part, you're on pretty much an even keel. Like the great singer/pianist Nina Simone, you can smile broadly and say with passion, "I'm feeling good."

And when you're feeling good, you wanna proclaim it like Moses and drop it from the highest mountaintop. You wanna kick it like JB (soul brotha #1) and scream it at The Apollo, "Wow! I feel good!" And you wanna bounce it to an infectious, hypnotic reggae beat, and say with Bob Marley, "We jammin/We jammin/and I hop you like jammin too." Yes, when you're feeling good, you got to have some toe-tapping, hard-driving, soul-surviving, sho-nuf music to lift your spirit and soothe your soul.

What should you listen to?

What type of music should you listen to? Listen to music that corresponds to the way you're feeling (sad, depressed, lonely, happy, enthused, relaxed). Listen to music to get the feeling you want. Let music get you excited enough to run off to a rock concert or relaxed enough to dream of walking by the ocean. For example, if you want to go to sleep, listen to some cool jazz such as "Kind of blue" or "In a silent way." by Miles Davis. Or listen to a Schubert sonata.

Listen to music to music to shake things up. If you get stuck in a rut, let the revolutionary words and beat of Marley groove you, until you find yourself, patting your feet, and singing, "Get up, stand up/Stand up for your rights." Or continue the protest for civil and human rights with jazz diva Nina and shout, "Mississippi Goddamn!"

What about the blues?

In your selection music, don't forget the blues. And don't listen what some of your friends say: that the blues is just tired ole sad music. The blues is a musical form that encompasses all emotions. Nor is it just old. The blues (and for that matter, gospel music) can found in virtually all forms of contemporary American music: rhythm and blues, country and western, jazz. Yes, some blues is sad. But what's wrong with that? As you will see, by allowing the expression of sadness or loneliness, blues provides a survival framework and healthy outlet for people, especially people in crisis.

What is the blues?

1. Blues music is truth-telling. The form allows, even forces, an artist to sing or play from the heart. " When communicated effectively, it causes the listener to feel the rhythm and the words or ideas deeply. It evokes the truth from both the artist and the listener.
2. The blues is cathartic. Listening to the plight of others can help you to better accept your own, especially when that plight is performed to evoke feelings appropriate to the story.

The positive effects of catharsis

In an article in Mother Jones magazine, author David Jadju talks about the positive effects of catharsis in the blues music:

"The blues was designed to make oppressed people feel better. But the magic of the blues is that it isn't just about African Americans, but about people everywhere. Its tension-and-release form is designed to wring out the emotions, cleanse the soul, and make the audience feel whole-- like gospel music, but without the religion. In the same article, Bruce Iglauer, founder and owner of Alligator Records, states, "As we say in Chicago, you listen to the blues to get rid of the blues."

The healing effects of the blues

Musicologist Marteinn Bjarnar gives even deeper insights into the healing effects of blues music. Bjarnar views music as "folk medicine," especially music which used certain instruments to get certain undertones or "drones." "Such instruments may include," he writes, "jaws harp, bagpipes, didgeridoo, sitar, chiming bowls, mountain horn, various one-string instruments to be struck or bowed, and modern instruments such as pipe organ with pedal point (foot pedal), programmable synthesizers, and even tape loops can give the good effect of undertones, if used in a suitable manner." Of course the blues is sung and played with instruments which enable the musician to skillfully utilize undertones (harmonicas, organs and guitars, etc.).

Sista Monica

Beyond blues authors or blues label owners, it's the bluesmen and blueswomen who are best qualified to speak of the healing effect of blues music. Sista Monica, a part of a new generation of blues artists, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma and given three months to live without treatment. She underwent eighteen months of chemotherapy that shrunk the tumor so surgeons could remove it. Unfortunately, she was left with damaged nerves on the entire upper right side of her body. She eventually regained mobility on the right side of her body and say she is singing with more passion than ever. In fact, she has written an autobiography of her experience: "Soul, Spirit & Survival."

Sista Monica says the blues was healing for her, because it helped her to deal with the truth about cancer and other life experiences.

Other blues artists

Though he didn't write a book on the subject, the late great blues guitarist/singer Albert King often sang about blues healing. In the song "I'll play the blues for you," he sang with passion about his desire to play the blues and ease worried minds:

“I got no big name/Well, I ain’t no big star/
But I’ll play the blues for you/ on my guitar/
And all your loneliness/ I got to soothe/
I'll play the blues for you."

The late great blues guitarist Son Seals, who was once a drummer for Albert King, was adamant in advice to live audience to partake in some blues healing because, as he loved to say, "They're good for you." In a live album made in Chicago, he told fellow Chicagoans at the end of his last set: "Don't for about these damn blues!" he said.

"When you go home, get in bed and close your eyes,
dream about these damn blues. Don't forget about 'em.
When you get up in the morning, you say blues!
I said, when you get in the morning, you say blues!"

Whatever the genre, play music to lift your spirt and soothe your soul. So go ahead: Rise to R&B and shout "I feel good!" At work, groove with Smoke Robinson on the easy-listening radio station and sing, "You really got a hold on me!" Listen to Mozart and doze off to sleep. But don't forget the blues. They're good for you.

Have you forgotten about the blues?

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I knew you would write about music sooner or later.

Anonymous said...

Anon1...what is it YOU love about music. Has it helped you, moved you or soothed you?

Anonymous said...

Sista Monica is a wonderful example of someone who has "lived" all of your lessons in dealing with crisis. She, as many do, views cancer as a positive experience --one that changed the direction of her life in a positive way. So much so that she donates
a portion of the proceeds from her CD's to Healing Journeys (www.healingjourneys.org), for “Cancer As A Turning Point” Conferences.

MacDaddy said...

Anon3 said:"Sista Monica is a wonderful example of someone who has "lived" all of your lessons in dealing with crisis."

Yes, she is. We could always learn and grow from her resilience and perseverance.

Christopher said...

It's great to see the quote by Alberta Hunter. She was special.

So many people don't know who she was which is a regular shame.

I didn't either until she came out of retirement and started to sing again after spending years as a teacher. She was getting on by then but still had that magic.

Anonymous said...

If anyone on the list is looking at getting in touch with repressed anger or just in need for a boost of raw energy, listen to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It's raucous. Always fun this time of year.

Certain types of classical music can seriously shape my mood and outlook. I have to be careful what I listen to!!

Anonymous said...

Just want to let you know I'm loving your blog series. Fantastic! JAH

Anonymous said...

Hi Daddy

Thanks for letting me add your post to my blog (http://bluesman2001.blogspot.com/) I also put a link to your site on the post.

Thanks for keeping the blues alive.

Tom Gary
Blues Historian

MacDaddy said...

Blues Historian: Thanks for getting the word around about the blues. Also, thanks for letting people know that Mel Brown, another treasure in blues music, just left us. Hopefully, some of my readers will come to your site (http://bluesman2001.blogspot.com/) and find out more. Blessings.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

The Blues leaves me speechless most of the time. Just makes me wanna go inside and run all up and down the neck of my old Les Paul. . . tuned to E with a slide.
Ooooowwwwwwww.

MadMike said...

I love the blues. What a great read.

judy said...

Daddy, If I email you, will you write me a playlist? You've never steered me wrong musically.

MacDaddy said...

Judy: I 'd be happy send you a playlist. My email is culturaldynamics@msn.com

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

i remeber he used to be on this tv show all the time on pbs - austin city lights i think

rainywalker said...

Music can truly soothe the savage beast when it gets past your ears and into those dark and dusty places.

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

A good friend taught me the importance of listening to lyrics and it has been a true eyeopener for me. Some songs speak to all the issues you're experiencing or at a given point in time. Lyrical therapy is very important.

MacDaddy said...

CurvyGurl: Lyrical therapy is especially important in the blues, where, oftentimes, the beat is not as prominent as, say, hip hop. In fact, blues ballads are slowed down and played softly to accommodate the words. This is how catharsis occurs.