Friday, January 26, 2007

blues journey

by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers.

I have to admit I have never especially liked blues music. It is often too slow and mournful for me. I get impatient with the repetition and methodical wind down. I would much rather listen to some upbeat praise gospel, wild jazz, baroque classical or fast paced rock and roll. I am getting a new appreciation for the blues though, after reading Myers’ book blues journey. In the introduction Walter Dean Meyers says, “When art from two cultures comes together, the result is often an exciting new experience. Such is the case with the blues. Two elements of African music form the basis for all blues: the singing form of “call and response,” and the pentatonic, or “blues,” scale. In African music the lead singer makes a statement, or “call,” and the chorus responds. In the blues the first two lines represent the call:

Going on a journey, looking for my supposed-to-be
Going on a journey, looking for my supposed-to-be

The blues singer then responds to his or her own call:

I’m riding that blues highway, and lord, it’s riding me”

It is interesting to me to see how the cultures of Africa have blended with European, North American and Asian influences to make-up our modern music. Reading the opening information page, the glossary and the timeline of the blues given in the back of the book have greatly increased my understanding of the development and range of the blues.

Myer’s son Christopher does the art work in this book with blue ink, white paint and brown paper bags. It is amazing what beautiful collages he has created. The browns and blues are perfectly balanced and portray the full range of human experience and feeling; from despair to joy, loneliness and fear to companionship and comfort.

My favorite poem is this one:

I’m half scared of dying, half scared of being strong
I’m half scared of dying, half scared of being strong
Guess that’s why I end up staying in that raging storm too long.

I would love to hear that sung with a strung out guitar and harmonica to back it up. It covers so many of my own experiences. Can you just see yourself singing that tune? If you get a chance look for this book in the library or bookstore and spend some time soaking it in. It is a balm for the soul.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the rec. The illustrations sound amazing.


Anonymous said...

you have a such wonderful literate artistic yet accessible site here.

There is much up tempo blues out there. Two representative artists are Buddy Guy and John Mayall.

Anonymous said...

I love this book. The Myers men do fabulous work together. If you haven't seen their newer one, Jazz, then I highly recommend it.

Great review!