Brief Reviews, VOLUME 2

Brief Review: GETTING THE BLUES by Stephen Nichols [Vol. 2, #1]

A Brief Review of
Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us
About Suffering and Salvation

by Stephen Nichols. 

by Mary Bowling.

Stephen J. Nichols’s book, Getting the Blues finds theology in a place where many Christians have feared to tread, or more rightly, where they have feared to listen.  Nichols delves deep into the roots of Mississippi Delta Blues to find what this music has to say about our relationship to the Creator. In many ways, blues music is the black-sheep brother of gospel music, living under the same roof, and still sneaking out at night to get into all kinds of trouble. Nichols points out that many great blues musicians either got their start as or became a gospel musician. Such was the case with Georgia Tom, a.k.a. Thomas A. Dorsey, a blues musician who went on to be called the father of gospel. While much of the music that Christians sing is focused on God’s greatness, the mutual love that we share with God, etc… Blues music, on the other hand, recognizes how far we can be from God, a much more real and pervasive condition for many, especially in the Deep South in the early twentieth century.  For some, blues was both a reaction to and a way out of a life spent picking cotton. The writers of the blues could see the hardness of life all around them, and they could feel it. Job opportunities were few and meager. Formal education was scant. With few words to use for complaint and nobody to listen to such a thing, blues was a way to express out loud the inequity that was taking place all over and the feelings that went with it. Of course, not all blues had so noble a focus. Much of the blues told about the ills of booze and bad women (or bad men) and the accompanying heartache.

                There are several biblical sentiments that we are reminded of in blues music. One is the wandering in the desert, with a complex mix of deliverance, disobedience, and waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Another is the wretchedness of the human condition as sung by David in the Psalms, but also seen in the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and countless others.  Throughout the blues and throughout scripture we see a recognition that things are not as they should be, and we feel the anxiety of waiting for the day when redemption will be universally known.

                It is ironic that a book which seeks to describe the inelegant world of southern poverty and iniquity would be written so eloquently by someone so far from that world. But Nichols recognizes this and, without condescending, offers words that connect the world of the blues to the world we know through scripture. Nichols, in essence, welcomes that sheep into the fold.

 

Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us
About Suffering and Salvation

Stephen Nichols.

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2008.

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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