John Lee Hooker, Aged 75

BY KIM STOKES

With the storm of an economic crisis passing over, and the dark clouds of another looming ahead, to what can my generation look but the blues? But we aren’t soul-minded blues kids, we are tempestuous electro-heads jammed in a crowd of throbbing bodies. But why?

This generation is left out to dry in these tough times, a foregone decade of hopefuls wanting and waiting for a better zeitgeist. We are blue: not soulful indigo, just cold, damp blue. Almost 100 years ago John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson played mean-licks, nasty sounds of soul and guitar, for the throngs of likeminded men who bore the dark rain of Wall Street failure and despair to the Mississippi blues. We, however, do not.

The new generation, my generation of lost souls, is not shifting to the same beat as a century ago. No, we are fist-pumping our way through electro-charged bass sounds. Sounds that roll over us, noisy and beat-wridden with none of the soul rhythm of the blues. We should be listening to what they were listening too, we are after all the same confused kids in the same confused climate. Where are the blues and why am I not hearing it anywhere?

‘I have heartaches, I have blues. No matter what you got, the blues is there. ‘Cause that’s all I know – the blues. And I can sing the blues so deep until you can have this room full of money and I can give you the blues.’

This is John Lee Hooker. The man who spoke words of wisdom in songs filled with indifferent melancholia. Deep down in the Mississippi South where the cotton is picked and the dust red, blues devils creep up from the lonely nights and bottle bottoms to sit on your shoulder. It is these creatures that encouraged blues in its early days, the days of Hooker and Waters. The men were driven from the fields when the depression started in the 20’s leaving them desperate and turning to drink. They also turned blue, and their songs of lament rambled over to the northern concrete fields of Wall Street and Washington. Their songs spoke to a generation of lost people.

I remember the first time I heard Hooker and ‘Hobo Blues’. I was in my dad’s office rifling through his CD collection out of boredom and spite, preparing to take no prisoners after he had refused to fund my Britney obsession. I came across this album cover, with a man’s serious face staring back at me. I played it. This was Hooker’s title track from a ‘48 album; it stuck with me throughout my childhood and teenage years as my all-time favourite song and it is still here, its mean lyrics of life in the hard slow lane of hobo America still means something to me, even now.

You can’t escape the blues devils once they have bitten you. They creep and crawl into your soul kicking it from barely alive to live for the  songs dedicated to their nasty selves.

And here’s the rub: if ‘Hobo Blues’ is still my favourite song, why am I still swayed by the beat of my generation in our smoky clubs. It is simple really. These songs are just as infectious: they invade my entire body, they beat through my feet and jolt up my spine, electricity currents traveling across the cigarette butt floor. I can feel my heart pounding, my body moving with the rest of the crowd. I can only begin to understand how someone feels who is an actual fan of electro music, yet I am elated as the oldest fan. I can understand why this music is so infectious: goodness, it is infesting me.

But what I still struggle to grasp is why have the blues not come back? Everything else has had its turn, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s; all except the blues. These are the times that it should be the most prevalent, when all our young hearts are heavy with economic turmoil and depression. Yet, it is nowhere to be heard. Or is that entirely true?

It was a night not dissimilar from the others, with the possy of us  jammed in front of a stage praying to electrical equipment, our hands fast on the steel to keep the growing swell of kids behind from pushing us against it. When the music begins, all heads throb along with the speakers. These electric gods send currents out, capturing us in a flurry of energy and ache. There may have been no ‘electric gods’ in the blues, or steel gripping kids, or even electric currents and speakers, but there was bass, and a lot of it. Back then the blues too caught lost souls, much like electro bass holds on to the kids of today, totally and completely.

Maybe you can’t see past this comparison, banishing  electro into the dirt as some new-age crazy with no standing, but I can see it so clearly now. Electro is the blues for this generation, it speaks to our depressed souls in the same way Hooker spoke almost a century ago. I still love ‘Hobo-Blues’, I can still feel it rippling in me, but I also feel the music of Skrillex and Infected Mushrooms. Blues is not gone, it is here, right now, in our form of musical consolation. And in every generation it will exist, erupting little devils to grip you tight in the night.

‘I don’t think about time. You’re here when you’re here. I think about today, staying in tune.’  John Lee Hooker.

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