My rendition of Chicago’s bar, circa 1987
The most shocking verse in the Bible is found at the end of Psalm 137. It is an elegy for the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The verse is a cry for revenge, and it goes like this:
“Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks!”
Psalm 137:9 NIV
You have to give him points for honesty, at least. It is the response of someone who was sad enough to be very, very angry about it. The writer apparently thought those feelings were valid enough to record - a nod to the fact that human beings experience all kinds of things in a lifetime, and maybe that is OK. It is a relatable sentiment, certainly. In the Bible we call this form of literature, a lamentation. Lamentations provide a form for all those who have ever been sad. As proclaimed in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for every purpose under the Heavens including a time to be sad all the way down to your boots.
There are enough Lamentations in the Bible that they have been collected together in a big book. They are not just in the Psalms. The book of Lamentations is quite a tome. Those who have been that unhappy can find solace in the assurance that people in the history or mankind have gone through whatever it is they are feeling, and worse.
Hence, the musical form, the blues. Just like the Lamentations of the Bible, the Blues express in song, what it is like to feel the pain of abandonment, love lost, poverty, cruelty and plain old-fashioned bad luck. I have loved the blues at a period in my life where I had a favourite bar, Chicagos in downtown Toronto. I did not go there to drink, I went there to sit on a barstool and be sad on purpose - the kind of situation where you feel so-o-o-o-o-o bad that you feel good. Chicago’s was a purist kind of environment where you could hear unapologetic blues by musician’s musicians. The place was crowded every Friday night even though it was a tiny room. It was a not very well-kept secret that the best part of the show came at the end of the evening when all the best blues players in town would jam including Jeff Healey.
Chicago’s had a house band - Steven C and the Red Rockets, who played the classics - The Thrill is Gone, Red House Blues, All Along the Watchtower, and songs like Sweet Home Chicago by Robert Johnson and Crosscut Saw by Albert King.
Listening to the blues is a strange cure because it allows you to live out your sadness to the full, in a place where that is all OK because everyone else is feeling the same way. You will be sad, until you are not anymore, it is as simple as that.
Having the blues is relatable. Experiencing them in full is also a kind of therapy I think. It makes me wonder at the knee-jerk reaction in the medical community to mask feelings of sadness with drugs or other forms of denial. Sometimes it is better I think, to have it all out and just feel what you are feeling until it is done. Having the blues can be spiritually clarifying. They put in perspective all the worst kind of things that could happen to you, I lost my job, my girlfriend left me, my dog died, I can’t pay my rent, I can’t seem to catch a break in life. The only way out of here is better than I’ve been.
Just like the blues song says...“Well, I woke up this morning - I saw Trouble walking like a man. I said hello Trouble, give me your right hand”. You might as well embrace it when it happens. If you are not entitled to your own sorrows then the world is a sad place indeed.
Like Ann Lamotte has expressed, you own whatever happens to you, and you also get to tell it. Nobody has the right to tell you to cheer up and snap out of it. They don’t get to say how you feel. Nobody gets to say your blues except for you. People who have the blues, tend to understand other people who have the blues. It is called empathy, and chances are the nicest people you meet in your life have also felt the depths of tremendous sorrow.
It makes me think of Khalil Gibran. In his classic book of poetry “The Prophet”, he writes about joy and sorrow.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
I think Khalil Gibran must have at some time, had the blues. If you have ever had them, you are in a territory that is common to the family of Man. You are in good company. Feel it unapologetically. Be blue, until you are not anymore. It is the strangest form of therapy, and it works.
FYI - I am no longer blue, but I still love the blues.