Sunday, September 12, 2010
Where have all the Blues gone?
B.B.King was laughing. In my dreams, in my head, in that blues bar called 'Lucille', almost overlooked opposite NYC's Madam Tussauds,in the streets of Chicago--I could hear his laughter--coming out with a smell of old age, coming out with the roaring beat of an perennially lovelorn heart, coming out from a black man's quiet evening,coming out like a child's big, surprised eyes. The big, old man, now living in all those memories of a river, can not play his guitar standing anymore neither can endure a set list comprising more than six or seven tracks. Yet he laughed. The laughter filled a humid, July evening in the Grant park and audience--many of them born at least three decades after Mr. King picked up his first guitar--waited patiently to hear last performance of the day. And then, Mr King started stroking his old, black guitar---churning out those same old songs. Churning out "Sweet Sixteen" or "Thrill is gone" or "Guess Who" for millionth time. Yet the song sounded so fresh, so new, so surprising almost like tears of an officegoing, domisticated middle aged man.
I never have the answer. Why the same "Three O' Clock Blues" or "Sweet Home Chicago" or "Alberta" sounds so new each time a Clapton , a King or a Mr. Buddy Guy plays it live?
Maybe that's what blues is. I don't know the history. I don't know nothing bout Mr. Patton or Mr. Johnson. I don't know when Delta moved up north to Chicago and started to become legitimate father of Rock music. All I know is that Blues is probably the only form of music (apart from Indian Ghazal) which can not be sung without feeling so much emotionally charged, without feeling the highest degree of love or hate for the very alive, very slippery body of the song, without being intoxicated with each turn of the song's smooth body, without being high on a dope called failed love.
Blues must have a spiritual root. Again, I don't know. But nothing gets more spiritual to me when John Lee Hooker (He is very much present tense for me) suddenly starts playing a note that seems like pulsating from my own heart, when Mr. King squeezes one string, Goddamn one string, of his "Lucille" and I can hear sound of a thousand love letters being shredded.
Let me finish by telling tales of Gautam Chakraborty. You might have seen him if you are from Calcutta. Back in 2001 Gautam used to work in the retail store called "Music World" in Park Street. Music World had a separate section for Blues and Jazz then as well as for International Rock music. "Download","Ipod","Bittorrent" were very alien words to me. I was browsing through some Rock Music when Gautam, being the true salesman, asked me whether I would like to look into something called 'Blues'. I had had a small brush with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williams, Some white bluesmen(not Clapton but John Mayall , Beck, Paige etc) back then and could not hold the urge to show my 'knowledge' bout the genre. But for all those blabbermouthing of mine, Gautam turned out to be the Zen, the Socrates in the world of Blues. That was the start. The CD he recommended me that day was "B.B.King Live in Regal" And then recommended me some more. keeping his duty aside, all those long hours spent talking about Blues and Bluegrass,all those moments of showing me a strange light burning in his eyes while talking of some singers whom his regular customers--the Britney clan--never bother to touch...the first time I heard live Blues standing outside a bar in Cardiff, I missed him a lot.
Gautam now changed camps.He is working in the city center branch of "Planet M" now.His long, curly hair got little bit of blues called age,his eyes still flickers that same old intelligence and sadness of a failed artist.Last time I met him he made me buy a "Chess Record's anthology of Howling Wolf".It was another great recommendation and when the record got over,once again , in my head I could see Mr. Gautam Chakraborty,salesman in music stores, a bachelor in late 40s, reaching his small,ancient South Calcutta home late in the evening.In his lonely room that remained oblivious to a woman's love for a very long time, I could see an old, dusty boom box... a few cds scattered around.I could see him picking one, loading it, switching off the neon light and as the red dot on his boom box changed to green, I could hear his room getting filled up with magic from four black fingers, with sound of a timeless river, with voice of love, laughter and anger all diffused in some tune that God does not make anymore.Gautam Chakraborty, after another day of selling Bollywood DVDs and technology adorned pop music, would travel to streets of Missouri now, would stop by a smoky bar of Chicago. And there a black guy in long suit would welcome him with another tune...as familiar as mother's lullaby yet as distinct as first scream of every newborn.