Doctors should prescribe guitars instead of Antidepressants.
As in many aspects of American culture, the oppressed will take ownership of their stereotype and celebrate that which makes them different. It’s a challenge, of sorts. “You say my cap’s not on straight?! Fine, then. I’ll wear the damn thing SIDEWAYS!” By taking ownership of an unjust preconception, the oppressed chop away at the power of the oppressors.
Blues music is just such a dare. From the murky Mississippi deltas to the cold Chicago streets, American blues music was developed as a way to cope with the harshness of life. Pianos plunked away on rickety tunes and tarnished harmonicas bent the agony from the player’s breath, all in defiance of the Blues. By rising up and celebrating the most universal of human emotions, sadness, we untether ourselves from misery. That’s why I play the Blues.
All in all, I live a good life.
I have two children that I’m endlessly proud of, I have a good job that I love, I have my health, and I’ve got enough fingers to pick at a guitar. I figure, as long as that last fact remains true, I’ll do okay in life. My guitar is one of my healthier coping mechanisms. Through my mostly sunny days, dark clouds undoubtedly appear, and at times, they seem to completely obscure the horizon. An old saying asks “How does one eat an elephant?” The answer, of course, is “One bite at a time.” I can pay ONE of my TEN urgent bills today, and I can replace my busted radiator later this week. Next week, TWO more bills become due, and I’ll be lucky if my oil pump doesn’t give out, but through it all, my guitar will be there. Like the stalwart trunk of a mighty river cypress, my six-stringed companion waits to shelter me from the harsh winds and rains that life exposes us to.
Take the time to listen to the Blues. For some, it’s an acquired taste. On the earlier recordings, the production value was very basic, very minimalistic. Once you get used to the lack of “studio polish,” you’ll begin to hear the emotion in every note. Sympathize with the musician and cry with the singer for a few bars, then, pick up your guitar. With a hard-soled shoe, stamp out a simple beat on a wooden floor and start chuckin’ on a Em chord. When you start to feel better, step up to the A for a couple beats, then stroll back to E minor town.
When you feel excited, jump on up to the Bm, but not for long, because this is the Blues, remember. Drag your ass back down to Em town via the A train. Catch a quick memory of the fun you had uptown with that Bm, but keep your Blue self down on Em street where you belong. Wail a bit about what’s troubling you, shake it off and run it all again. I SWEAR you’ll feel better.
A guitar has a tremendous therapeutic side-effect. It can be a frustrating, and sometimes painful to navigate as you’re learning, but stick with it. Study the guitar riffs of the old Blues players & singers. Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King guitar riffs are basic and relatively easy to learn, but when they played them, there was no mistaking how they FELT. Go beyond the practice of simply fingering the strings clean, and hitting each note in succession to make a song.
I challenge you to learn to FEEL each note.
Drop the weight of your worst days on your strings. Use your pick like a pocketknife, carving your initials into the charred stumps doled out by the worst of life. Stand up, strike an epic chord and proclaim to the world that you CANNOT be held down. You CANNOT be stopped! You can throw me your worst, and with my guitar, I’ll make it MY BEST!
Remember, the saddest blues song is the one never played.
traveling photographer, father, and guitar enthusiast.