Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dark was the night

Justin Taylor interviews Steve Nichols about his new book, Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation. One of my former students encouraged me to listen to the Blues - I started and haven't stopped. I'm getting this book. A portion of the interview:
What motivated you to move from simply enjoying the blues to wanting to write a book about it?

As I mentioned, it didn’t take me long to see that there is a lot of theology here, but the kind of theology we don’t always dwell on. The blues is more about the “fellowship of his suffering,” than it is about the “power of the resurrection.” The blues reminds us of the curse, of our limitations and of our fallenness. The blues is also about the cross. The blues reminds us that while we celebrate Easter Sunday, we do well sometimes to pause over Good Friday. Our theology tends to be more triumphant, more major key. I liked the theology I was hearing in the blues because it was a theology we don’t always hear in our typical contemporary American evangelical contexts.

In the course of reading for the book, I didn’t spend all my time in research just listening, I came across the term theomusicology. That’s what I’m doing in this book, a theomusicology of the blues. Again, I think it’s a theology or a slant on theology that we, the “us” in the subtitle of the book, don’t always pay attention to but should.

For those unfamiliar with the music, where should they start?

At the end of the book I offer a discography of three or so CDs that complement each chapter in the book. I’ll pull a few out of there for you. You can’t go wrong with the standards: Son House (Delta Blues), Charley Patton (Primeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs), Robert Johnson (Complete Recordings, and Muddy Waters (The Anthology). I’m also partial to the smooth vocals of Mississippi John Hurt (Avalaon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings). For the more raspy vocals, it doesn’t get any better that Blind Willie Johnson (The Complete Blind Willie Johnson). His moaning version of “Dark Was the Night,” a song about Good Friday, was launched into space on the Voyager.

If you’ve not listened to the blues before, then I’d start with Hurt before moving on. If you were into the whole British rock scene, then you need to start with Eric Clapton’s “Me and Mr. Johnson,” his tribute to Robert Johnson. In fact, I think I’ll go have a listen myself. [more]
Between Two Worlds: An Interview with Steve Nichols on Getting the Blues

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