I intend this post to be the first of a three part series inspired by the title of Joe Bonamassa’s upcoming studio release, Blues of Desperation. In each part I will examine three songs that pertain to the main theme of that particular section. The blues is many things in music: a style, a structure, a tone, a feeling, a note. But for many people, blues is unceasingly associated with “feeling blue”; with sadness. Although I consider the blues to be all of those things I mentioned, I definitely think of its predominant emotion is one of downheartedness; of sadness. And when sadness gets to be too much, it becomes hopelessness, desperation.
The first piece in this trilogy of blogs focuses on music that contains that sadness, and I specifically tie it to blues songs and the blues (or blues-rock, in Eric Clapton’s case). The second piece will focus on those songs that reach the depths of desperation. Finally, I want to end the series on a note of hope; the overcoming of sadness and despair. Songs of fighting through the pain, of better days ahead, of optimism, and even ultimately of joy. Because despite its reputation, the blues isn’t just sadness, but also about all expressions of our emotional lives, from the most painful to the most delightful.
Part 1. Blues
1.- “Love in Vain” – Robert Johnson “Love in Vain” is about the last moments of a relationship. The very end of the road. The singer escorts his ex-lover to the train station He looks her in the eye and can’t help himself but cry. The train leaves the station with his lover and his happiness now gone, the two lights that linger on behind the train and in his mind. This song represents the real bluest of the blues – sadness, loss, pining for an ex-love that’s now dead cold and buried. This Robert Johnson classic is, in my opinion, one of his very best masterpieces, and it has also led to a number of classic covers by other artists, including The Rolling Stones, Keb’ Mo’, Eric Clapton, Walter Trout, and Todd Rundgren. Robert Johnson really had the blues with this one.
2. “The Sky Is Crying” – Elmore James Also about the loss of love, “The Sky Is Crying” originally done by Elmore James is about the stages of recognition that your happiness and love is now gone. The mood of the singer is reflected in both nature and in artifice, as if the whole world is reflective of the singer’s emotions. Before anything else, the sky is crying, as if nature herself knows that the singer’s love is over. The singer’s lover s missing – where can she be? We don’t know yet, but it’s probably not a good sign. Then one morning he sees his baby walking down the street – this brings a momentary pang of happiness until his heart realizes that something is still wrong. Now he’s fully conscious of what he recognizes: his baby doesn’t love him anymore. The sky is crying, the tears rolling down his door and awash in his life. There’s no escaping the truth or the pain. In addition to Elmore James’ original, the song has become particularly associated with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s heartfelt cover – with the title of the song taking on other connotations, alluding to the ultimate tragic fate of Vaughan.
3. “Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton In one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written, loss of love is still the theme, but not of a lover. Rather, Clapton is singing about the real life death of his young son, Conor, who was lost in a tragic accident. The theme of the song is about a possible but all-too-brief reunion Clapton would have if he could visit his son in heaven. But even if such a thing were possible, Clapton’s life must go on, and it must go on without Conor. Two definitive versions of the song exist, the studio version on the soundtrack to the film Rush, as well as the equally powerful and heart-shattering version from the famous Eric Clapton Unplugged concert. Ultimately, the song proved cathartic for Clapton, as he was eventually able to regain happiness in life again despite a pain that also, I am sure, never truly goes away. The song won the 1993 Grammys for Song and Record of the year, as well as another for Clapton’s vocal performance. Well deserved.
To be continued in Part 2: Desperation