Originally posted on 01 Jun 2024

1 minute read

In the days before blues or jazz were recognised genres, they evolved in the backrooms and brothels of cities along the Mississippi River. Most of the musicians were black, but many were of mixed descent, or even white, but they all shared many of the same experiences. This was real music, played by real people, singing real lyrics that reflected their actual lives.

Those lives, contrary to what history might have us believe, were profane and physical. We like to think that using offensive language in songs is a hip-hop or rap thing, but that’s largely because earlier profane music was actively ignored and often illegal to record. The prudes tried to paint history as clean and wholesome, but in the end they failed.

Wald goes into explicit detail on the how and why of this censorship, by delving into the previously unknown records and stories collected from the people who were there at the birth of jazz and the blues. It’s an intensely researched book, and a testament to Wald’s dedication to musical history.

I enjoyed this one, but it felt like it went on far too long. How many different ways does he need to explain that people used to swear in their songs and sing about the funky and messy realities of sex? That many people used to be a lot more accepting of gays and bi’s in their community? That women were abused but also would fight back or demand their needs be met? That these songs were a part of an oral tradition that has analogues throughout history and across the world?

Wald got his point across well, then continued to pile on the evidence and research for many pages more. So it was a good book, but I was more than ready for it to be over several chapters before it was.