Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Blues

The Blues

“Rhapsody in Blue,” 1924.  “Kind of Blue,” 1945.  “Blue,” 1971.  20th century music is blue, a heart and soul sound from a place as deep and dark as the ocean.  George Gershwin, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell all knew sorrow as well as success, baring and sharing their blue souls for all the world to hear.

This is my fourth and last weekly post on “The Color Blue in Art and Culture.”  (You can look back for my 3 previous blue art posts: the Egyptian blue faience bowl, Botticelli and Vermeer’s ultramarine, Hokusai and Van Gogh’s Prussian Blue.) 

Today we push Play, close our eyes and open our ears to the sad, haunting, emotional sound we call the Blues.

As Minister for Blue Theology, (authorized by the United Church of Christ to connect faith communities and ocean stewardship and spirituality) I usually preach and teach and write about sea stars and epiphanies, Easter (harbor) seals, ocean upwelling and the Holy Spirit.  But these recent posts about blue art have touched me and readers in deep blue ways and reminded us that the ocean’s spell and spirit have a lot to do with its magical color, blue.

I am no painter nor musician, just an amateur fan.  It’s a bit easier to write about painting than music, an even more foreign language.  I have strong emotional connections and memories with each of these albums, and of hearing Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell in person.   What are your deep blue connections with these works of genius?

There is much speculation about the source and meaning of the words “the blues.”  An early blues singer, Charlotte Forten said you can’t sing the blues without a “full heart and a troubled spirit.”  A “blue note” in musicology is lower and flatter and frees up the player from the traditional scale. 

There are some good stories about how each of these three albums was conceived and named.  Gershwin composed the Rhapsody in five weeks, first on a train, in whose “rattley-bang, I heard a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” Davis revolutionized jazz with modality, no chords.  He said, “No chords gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever.”  Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” well, that is the soundtrack of my college years.   I spent an impoverished summer of 1971 in NYC with only five albums, and one was Blue, and we played it over and over and over.

Blue Theology?  What makes music and the ocean blue?  Depth, mystery, emotion, low, flat, freedom, space, go on forever.  Like the blues, the ocean is full and can be trouble.

Sometimes when I say I do “Blue Theology” people think I mean “Sad Theology.”  No, no, the ocean, I insist.  But there are wet tears in the ocean, moans in the mist, depression between waves, a foggy lullaby. 

Hear all these ocean moans in Joni’s lyrics.  Don’t be afraid to be blue.  You can make it through these waves.

Blue songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away.

Hey Blue, here is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in

Well there’re so many sinking now
You’ve got to keep thinking
You can make it through these waves
Acid, booze, and ass
Needles, guns and grass
Lots of laughs, lots of laughs

Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go
Well I don’t think so
But I’m gonna take a look around it though
Blue I love you

Blue here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me.

We were just talking about the ocean’s voice with our last Blue Theology youth group of the summer, from the fabulous United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis.  The ocean cries and moans and laughs and sings.  Come hear her any time of year at our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove.  I post these “Tide-ings” every Wednesday here and at  

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