Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Thinking About Blues Music And Writing About Music

This is something I wrote last weekend as part of a writing exercise where the topic was the blues and the exercise rules are that you can only write for ten minutes, no editing. I thought some of you might be interested in it. i share one of my weak spots as a writer.


The Blues
When I first think of the blues, I think of depression but I think I have written
enough about that lately.  

The second thing I think of is blues music. Which reminds me of Hagerstown,
Maryland, where I lived and worked for about ten years before moving to Austin.  

I confess I did not know much about blues music before I started attending an
annual blues festival in Hagerstown. It was a three-day event which meant that
with a staff of about ten news reporters all of us would write at least one story
about the festival's events each year.  

Now I have never been good about writing about music. I am not sure why exactly -
I can write movie, tv and book reviews easily and, often, enjoy it. My first
ever assignment, this was back on my first day on the college newspaper, was to
interview the then-rising star band of Timbuk 3. Yeah, the guys that did that song
"The Future's So Bright I Have To Wear Shades." I was to interview them and then,
in a separate piece, write a review of the concert.  

This was way before I figured out the importance of writing out a long list of questions before interviews. Which is why I proceeded to ask the obvious questions they had been asked a billion times: What does the band name mean? Why do you have a boombox instead of a drummer? Etc. They rolled their eyes and ended the interview early. And the review? Well, there's a saying that is something like "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." I used lots of descriptive words but I could not really articulate what I was thinking and feeling.  

As soon as possible I shifted from the music assignment to campus news where I thrived,
eventually becoming the editor-in-chief for two years. And vowed never to have to
review music albums or concerts again. And I was able to do so for at least a decade or
two. In the 2000s I did attend one or two concerts and wrote that up for an online publication
as well as album reviews. I did this partly to see if I could do better and the short and fast
answer was that, no, I still could not. Maybe this is why I have always been a fan of music criticism, as if reading other writers would teach me the way  

I'm drifting.  

Oh, right, the blues festival. Fortunately, I learned with great relief that I would not have to  review any shows. Instead, my job was to talk to fans. Now that had some challenges namely
there were several stages so there was no real break between the music, played at a volume that made it hard to have a verbal conversation. For someone like me who hates raising his voice, this was a challenge but I do what the job requires and, this time, in addition to the usual questions -  Why are you here? What artist or band do you most want to see? How many years have you come? - I had a few new ones in my backpocket. These were questions like "What do you think is most misunderstood about the blues? How does listening to the blues make you feel? I think there is a  perception that listening to the blues will make you sad - had that been you experience?  

I enjoyed the music I heard at the festival and bought a few albums based on shows I saw.  

Then I left journalism and switched to special education work. But this is also when I decided to return to an old love of photography. My favorite photo subjects were patterns but I was starting to enjoy photographing live people, especially performing. So I would return to the festival each year and take photos of the bands and artists and I loved it.  

I miss that festival but still take my camera with me when I go see a free show.