I like rock ‘n’ roll and its illegitimate daddy, the blues, just as much for the mythology as for the music itself. You’ve got musicians who may, or may not have sold their souls to the devil just so they can play the guitar faster than a normal man. You’ve got a death count that rivals the Great War. You’ve got a gritty, seedy underbelly that, say, disco just doesn’t have.
It’s this roughhewn, darker, murkier aspect of the genres that I enjoy. The language is often vicious, almost murderous. Blues and rock just don’t work as well when there’s polish and glow. It needs that darker half to bring out the best qualities. Cheatin’ women, murdered lovers, drinkin’, whorin’ and killin’. That’s not to say that there’s not more upstanding topics brought up, like, say, spirituality, but usually that spirituality is limited to goin’ down to the crossroads and sellin’ one’s soul to the devil.
The grittiness of the music goes beyond the subject matter and language, it’s reflected in the recording of the music itself. Robert Johnson, a blues musician who managed the impressive trick of selling his soul to the devil AND dying young, has only a handful of recordings to his name. They’re raddled with static and pops. His voice wails alone, his guitar the only instrument. And all of it just adds to the music. The raw raggedness is a necessary ingredient and makes it more than it would be otherwise.
On the other hand, you have a blues guitarist like Jonny Lang. He rocks the guitar like the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and growls through a song like the best of them, but there’s too much foofrah, too much lace and trim. There’s the back-up vocalists, the way too many other band numbers playing horns, basses, violins and didgeridoos. With all that polish and shine, something is lost and it stops being rock ‘n’ roll and it stops being the blues and becomes a gussied up dandy who’s lost connections with his roots.
Just as I’m drawn to horror in books and movies, I’m drawn to music that has to turn its head until that darkness goes.