"Paul Garon's study of the blues represents a new and important
approach to the analysis of the blues as a psychopoetic phenomenon."
the best book on the blues." Robin D.G.
from Blues and the Poetic Spirit
thesis of Blues and the Poetic Spirit is that the blues is a music
that signifies the rebellion of the spirit, a body of song that
achieves poetry by its insistent revolt and demand for liberation.
Had it not been created through the genius of an oppressed people,
its language and speech would not have contained the same demands.
Before the blues revival of the 1960s, it was taken for granted
that blues contained an eloquent protest, but during the blues revival,
professional pessimists, hailing themselves as realists, declared
that such protest could not be detected in blues lyrics. This, after
decades of scholarship had uncovered the hidden meanings and the
rebelliousness "coded" in spirituals, and decades after these findings
were totally accepted!
Why not the
blues? Why was its content not subject to the same analysis and
the same revelations? For many academics, resistance to psychoanalysis
was the big problem. These blues fans worked and studied in various
university departments: anthropology, American studies, music, etc.
Folklore departments were few and far between. One notion held in
common was a hostility to psychoanalytic thinking and a distrust
of any form of interpretation that claimed to assess unconscious
meanings and their symbolic expression.
a fierce and dogged literalism, where imagination played an exceedingly
minor role compared to persistence and discipline, it was difficult
for them to believe that blues singers might be singing about something
other than the obvious. Thus, academic observers were destined condemned
from the start to miss any hidden meanings the blues had to offer.
There are other,
more important reasons, however, and some of them are unpleasant
to behold. Blues research during the revival years was carried on
in an atmosphere of cordiality and cooperation, in the minds of
the field workers. Yet 98% of these field workers were white. Perhaps
it was pride that made it impossible for them to admit to themselves
that their black compatriots were holding something back and held
deep secrets that were still beyond sharing with whites. For modern
researchers to ignore the possibility of protest in blues also allowed
them to think of blues as a music of accommodation, a more comfortable
thought than the notion that it might be a music of resistance and
that they might be working with singers who considered them the
enemy! Let us speak openly. Often the whites were in positions of
power: agents, A and R men, label owners, magazine editors and writers.
Did they really expect black artists to speak to them honestly about
their feelings for whites in general and for them in particular?