We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
- Native American Proverb
A friend of mine told me today that he was feeling a little down. Was it something serious? I asked. Something physical? Was his marriage okay? The kids? Maybe, I was even about to suggest, he was depressed and should see a doctor.
“No,” he said, giving me a bemused look. “In fact, life is great. I just have the blues today. It’s normal. I’m fine. I’ll just go with it. It’s just the blues.”
I hadn’t heard that phrase recently, not in the age of psychotherapy and antidepressants. And I have had some very close friends and relatives battle serious depressive illness with everything in the modern medical arsenal. It’s no picnic. Clinical depression is a devastating condition.
But the blues is something different, and we all have them from time to time. In fact, after talking to my friend I realized I’d had a bluesy couple of days not long ago.
I felt a little wistful, nostalgic, not all that motivated and future-focused. The economy and the bad news out of Japan and Libya didn’t help. But the blues is something more personal than that.
Julee has been on tour in Europe for a month (she’s performing in Istanbul tonight…hi, Jules! if you’re reading this, have a great show) so I’ve been spending a lot of time by myself and I can be very solitary given the chance. The blues are like a cloudy day inside ourselves. And maybe, I started to think, it’s a way that God makes sure we stay in touch with the full spectrum of our humanity. We can’t always have a great day. A little case of the blues from time to time might be a sort of spiritual inoculation against more serious despair that we might face, a way of building up our immunity against real depression.
The week before last my upbeat colleague Amy Wong did her positive thinking blog on favorite sunny day songs. We don’t actually have a musical genre called the sunnies but we do have the blues, one of the great original American art forms.
So here are my nominations for the three greatest blues songs ever: “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson, the original bluesman who struggled with questions of the soul and the devil. “Born Under a Bad Sign,” written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell and made famous by Albert King, which addresses questions about free will and determinism if you want to get all intellectual about it. And “The Thrill Is Gone” by the great B.B. King, for my money the best single blues performance ever. Lucille will break your heart and make you know that having the blues can be a beautiful thing in its power to reach the deepest human emotions.
Do you get the blues—by which I don’t mean something more worrisome like depression—and how do you handle it? And what are your favorite blues songs and artists?
Edward Grinnan is Editor-in-Chief and Vice President of Guideposts Publications. Edward lives in New York City with two blondes—his wife, Julee, and Golden Retriever, Millie, who has been featured in his blog and popular videos. Edward loves cycling, hiking with Millie at his house in the Berkshire Hills and Wolverines that hail from Michigan.
If you need a little boost of inspiration, pick up a copy of Edward's book The Promise of Hope: How True Stories of Hope and Inspiration Saved My Life and How They Can Transform Yours.