Howlin' Wolf inspects my guitar for evidence of theft
Well, an interesting few days with no access to the internet. I read a book on Tamla Motown And I even went to the beach, a rarity for me. I also played a couple of gigs. One of them stirred up memories.
Many years ago, I reviewed movies for a long-defunct film magazine in London. One evening, I was at a showing of a film called Wonderwall, a 1970s psychedelic conceit. It was really only being screened because the English pop group Oasis had released a song of that name, presumably inspired by the film, or at least the title of the film. The movie is an absolute piece of shit, a total waste of time and celluloid. But, there I was, taking advantage of the screening company’s largesse in the form of a free bar. Those who know me well should realise that you never, ever put me in the vicinity of a free bar, if decorum is to be maintained.
My editor was there, a nice guy who had also, I suspect, taken full advantage of the river of vodka on whose banks we sat. At the time, I was trying to set up a band, just for fun, to play Stones songs, The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, that sort of thing. I mentioned it to him, and added that I wanted to play a bit of blues. Well, that was it.
He said, what is it with white boys and the blues? Although, he didn’t pronounce it that way. He said, and made a point of doing so, ‘Da blooooz’. He was white himself, and I assume he still is, although nowadays you never can tell, and very, very pleased with his new verbal construction. He must have said ‘Da blooz’ about fifty fucking times during his ten-minute tirade against people like me, white men with the nerve to steal the black man’s vibe. Eventually I sloped off, bored. I often remember this incident, however, particularly in the context of the modern fad for criticising ‘cultural appropriation’. I have formulated, after lengthy consideration, a response to the criticism meted out to me by this minor journalist.
Black men didn’t invent the blues, they discovered them. Music is predicated on one bound string, octaves, tones and semi-tones, progressions, tonality and notes. After that come chords. If you want to be a pedantic, virtue-signalling wanker about it, fine. But you could also argue, if you had read anything worthwhile, that Plato discovered the blues, and even he ripped off Pythagoras.
I can’t stand this new fad for claiming that blacks and Muslims invented everything from the printing press to the Large Hadron Collider. No, they didn’t. Blacks haven’t really invented shit. They just have not added to the stock of the modern world. The blues, however, is a type of music that I am now coming fully to appreciate.
On Friday nights, I play bass and sing with a guy from Austin, Texas. Now, he is as mad as a box of frogs, and frankly has far too intimate a connection with cocaine for my liking. However, he has taught me a lot about blues music. He first arrived in Costa Rica with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s original bass player, which is a bit like a writer turning up at a party with James Joyce’s mate. Pretty cool. Last time we played, we hit songs by Buddy Guy – who this fellow met when he was just six years old – Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B B King, Chuck Berry and Stevie Ray himself. And Hendrix. And The Stones. And The Beatles. And The Kinks. I am proud to say that I am responsible for introducing him to a number of songs by those white boys, with their naughty cultural appropriation and all.
If cultural appropriation is what the young people call a ‘thing’, I have news for you. If white freshmen are not allowed to wear a sombrero to a fancy-dress party, then the ratchet works both ways. Hey, black people. And Muslims. And Hispanics. Stop using electricity. Get out of that car and hand it to the nearest white person you find. No more books for you, if you read them to begin with. Roads? Buildings more complex than tents or huts? Glass? Computers? To quote Barack Hussain Obama, you didn’t build that.
I don’t know what my ex-editor is up to now. Writing anodyne pieces for The Observer, perhaps. But I am scraping a living in Central America, and part of my income comes from playing Da Blooz.
And, baby, I’m your back door man.