I’m a huge fan of the blues. I play drums and sing in a blues band. And when I’m not onstage, one can often find me attending all-Saturday night juke joint-esque live blues clubs. These events are like no other after-dark celebration. Blues lovers ranging from barely 21 to cusp-of-death 94 pack small, cramped, lowly lit restaurants for one purpose: to spend all night with a single band playing everything from Robert Johnson to Led Zeppelin. The party lasts all night, or at least until the liquor runs out. And in a drunken stupor the atmosphere hits a sexual frenzy, complete with (sometimes) jealous fist fights. It’s an ancient ceremony, and legends about the devil abound.
Last weekend I went to one of these events. In between sets I had a chance encounter with a “non-denominational Christian who lives by and preaches the ‘true’ word of Christ,” whatever that means. The conversation didn’t begin with religion; it actually began by talking about the roots of early bluesmen, which inevitably led to talk about gospel music (another genre I enjoy). The man had some strong feelings about gospel music. I’m going to attempt to recreate the conversation as best as I can (remember, I was drinking that night…heavily). The end offers an interesting revelation about this man’s feelings about the blues.
Me: “I love gospel music. I get an incredible feeling when listening to gospel music or seeing gospel bands.”
Him: “That’s god talking through the music. It’s Jesus Christ personally talking to you. That’s why you get that feeling.”
Me: “Well, I’m atheist, so I don’t know about that.”
Him: “Oh come on! You can’t tell me that feeling is something else. I know it’s Jesus reaching out to you.”
Me: “But I get the same feeling when I listen to the Muslim call to prayer. Is that god too?”
Him: “No that’s the devil [laughing]. Satan is trying to trick you into joining a false religion.”
Me: “But I also get the same feeling when I listen to the blues. Is that Jesus? Or is Satan trying to trick me?”
Him: “That’s Satan too. The blues is a godless music. Satan invented the blues to stray us. It promotes wickedness and sexual perversions. Fornication. Adultery. Loose women. This is all the work of the devil, I tell you.”
Me: “Don’t you like the blues?”
Him: “I love the blues! Satan has got a hold of me tonight, but tomorrow I’ll go back to god. God doesn’t care what happens in these joints as long as we ask forgiveness Sunday morning.”
The rest of the conversation was an ill-fated attempt on his part to convert this godless heathen. But the next day, after I cured my hangover with a meal fit for a king, I started to think about what the man said about the blues. His general idea was this: He can “sin” all he wants to Saturday night, even taking home a “loose” woman (his words), even if it means he’s literally (in his mind) doing Satan’s work, as long as he turns himself back to Jesus by time the sun comes up.
I wonder what other “sins” he can justify as long as he repents afterwards.
NOTE: The blues is not only an incredible genre of music, but its history is probably the bloodiest in music, and, even though it was created by a highly religious American demographic, the blues is surprisingly almost entirely devoid of reference to god. It’s quite a secular genre.
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