This is a non-fiction look at blues music in
the United States. It’s a look at the myth of blues, and the mystification of
Robert Johnson. Wald is an amateur musician, blues lover, writer and teacher.
He writes about the beginning of Blues in the Mississippi delta and how it
moved north, and how it became popular music. He writes about important blues
musicians, and about Robert Johnson who has been made into the start of blues,
and who has been made into this mystical person who sold his soul to the devil.
I really like blues. I love the guitars and
the howling and the things. I also really like Robert Johnson, because there is
the legend of him selling his soul to the devil, and I find it fascinating. I
obviously know he didn’t really sell his soul to the devil, but it’s an
So Wald basically deconstructs the myth of
blues. It’s a very myth-filled genre. It’s in many ways seen as the music of
pain and suffering, and while that’s certainly true to an extent, blues music
was also popular music. It was basically pop music, and everyone listened to
it. And since it was written and performed first in the early 20th
century it was about things that people thought about and knew about, so they
wrote about cotton picking and Jim Crow laws, because that’s what people
thought about. This isn’t a criticism by the way, I think blues probably has a
lot of meaning to people who have lived with oppression, but according to Wald,
when it was made it wasn’t really protest music. It wrote about what people
knew and it became popular. A lot of people listened to it, and a lot of people
went to see it played. According to Wald the mysticism has in many ways been
made by nostalgic white fans later.
I found the deconstruction of Robert Johnson
really fascinating. The legend is Johnson was sort of “meh” as a guitar player,
went away, and came back as a guitar genius. The theory was he sold his soul
for his skills. The truth is that Johnson was incredibly dedicated and hard
working. He practiced, he worked hard and he became a good player. He probably
had some inborn talent, but he worked hard to hone his skills. Some people say
that he wrote about the hell hound and the devil because of the whole
selling-his-soul-business, but the truth seems to be that the mythology of the
devil, and the theme of being chased was sort of in the zeitgeist, and it was
popular, so he basically made popular music.
It’s easy to understand how he became
mythical, he was handsome, young, he dressed well, and he seemed to suddenly
become a guitar genius, and because he died sort of mysteriously. He might have
been killed, he might have drunk himself to death, he might have had pneumonia,
but he died somewhere where people had no idea who he was, so no one really
recorded it for posterity. Which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds, but it makes his
I really like deconstructing things I like.
I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a weird thing about me. So I really liked
deconstructing blues. Because it is so full of myth and demons and stuff, and
it was interesting to see someone writing from such a sober perspective. And it
was interesting to see the history of blues, where it came from. And it was cool
to see that these people were just very hard-working, they didn’t sell their
souls, they just worked hard. And there’s this fascinating thing he describes,
where he plays his students a bunch of blues, and then Robert Johnson. And they’re
all really excited. And then they’re like, what the hell? Because they have so
many expectations, and he was just… a blues singer like many other.
I liked it, it was fun. It was fascinating. It
meant I listened to a bunch of blues, which was fun. I really liked it.