“Blues is easy to play but hard to feel.” ~ Jimi Hendrix
What do I know about Jimi Hendrix? What do I know about playing the blues?
The truth? Nothing. Not really. But I do know how to feel the blues. I’m not talking about sorrow. Both of my parents passed away in the last three months, my father on June 27. I’m immersed in sorrow.
But the blues is more than sorrow. The blues evokes a yearning, a wanting. The blues evokes every feeling imaginable, even that twinge of hope that resolution is just a note away. Everybody wants resolution. Everybody feels the blues, but I think writers, artists, and musicians truly get it. It’s like another dimension of communication.
So many people see life in black and white. If you know anything about graphic design, you know photographs, if not in color, are best viewed in grayscale, not black line. Such is the blues, such is life. The blues finds itself somewhere between heaven and hell, and while the singers may stand undeniably on one side or the other, the fact is people are neither black nor white.
Read Psalm 51:5 and Ephesians 2:1-3. Then read James 1:17 and Romans 8:28. A war rages. Notes bend. There’s a need for resolution. Fulfillment. Redemption.
I just got back from Memphis. The first thing I did was visit Memphis Music, my favorite Beale Street shop. An elderly gentleman in his 80s, Mr. Clyde Hopkins, “the Godfather of the Blues,” greeted me with his CD, Don’t Mistreat a Friend. He told me he’d autograph it if I bought it and said it would be special because I got to meet him in person. How could I resist? I bought it. My only regret is I didn’t get a picture of him. But I took plenty of others.
As soon as I stepped out of Memphis Music, I headed to Handy Park, where I found the Juke Joint Allstars on stage. They’re so cool they autographed a CD for me right in the middle of a song and extended an invitation for me to join them on stage. Another trip to Handy Park, one of many, gave me the opportunity to snap pictures of a young girl in the audience who wanted to sing the blues. One of the band members handed her his guitar, and another set up a mic. The girl could sing.
Deciding what to eat on Beale Street is never a problem–catfish or ribs, occasionally oysters. Deciding where to eat is a challenge. The Blues City Cafe is a must for all first timers, but Miss Polly’s is just as good and has the best catfish around. The cornbread is good too. Ever tried it with a little jalepeno?
I asked the cook if I could take a few pictures inside the place. All the tables pay homage to the blues greats. The cook was quite gracious. He even offered me a chance to take a picture of him then and again when I saw him standing outside the restuarant. Memphis folk are twice as nice.
I mentioned oysters. My grandmother used to make fried oysters, and maybe that’s how I learned to like them so much. But you can’t get fried oysters around here. Memphis truly has it all, even an Irish Pub called Silky O’ Sullivan’s, and it serves delicious fried oysters. I didn’t make it there on this trip, but I was standing out front when the owner pulled up in his sportscar. Wow. I’ll probably never stand that close to a car like that again.
For the first time in years, I took a walk along the riverside, and I think the walk was the best part of my trip. It gave me a chance to think about life, about people in my life.
When I’m in Memphis, I do a lot of people watching and analyzing. Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in folklore–stories handed down from one generation to the next. Memphis is rich in tradition and lore. Some of the supernatural lore is commercialized; some of it is the real deal. But it’s nothing to play around with.
No matter where we live, everybody has a story. Everybody sings the blues. We may want to see life in black and white, but truthfully it’s all shades of grey. And if we want to see it in living color, colors we’ve never seen on this earth, well, we’ll have to wait for heaven for that.