If Ever You Wanted
Blues singer? Are you making this up?
It's an arresting idea in Kathleen Higgins' book-length commentary, Nietzsche's Zarathustra:
What do I mean by this image of Zarathustra as blues singer? Let us return to the distinction that Nietzsche makes between tragic and Christian perspectives on the horrible and tragic elements of life. The Christian worldview responds to these elements with the myth of eternal salvation, which provides so thorough a redemption that the worst atrocity can be given a good face. Nietzsche sees the longing for this kind of redemption as understandable, ... But ... Nietzsche sees the goal as unattainable and the addiction to this quest as psychologically disastrous. This is one of the central points about Nietzsche's thought ...Just playing ...Kathleen Higgins
Let's go down past the philosophy and just listen a little to how Friedrich Nietzsche and some of his commentators play with the ideas and the deep emotions of Nietzsche's chapter "The Drunken Song" in Part IV of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This is only suggestive, not meant as a thesis. So we are not advocating here a philosophy of life, and I don't want to stumble into theological toils trying to define acceptance of life's slings and arrows in Zarathustra and the Bible. Perhaps we should simply approach this as musings about Nietzsche's "song", and whether in relaxed ears this song might carry some tones of the blues.
But first let's glance at the blues, travel just one little down-home track. When a young black dance-orchestra leader, W. C. Handy, "happened on the blues while waiting for a train in Tutwiler [Mississippi] in 1903, it struck him as 'the weirdest music I had ever heard.'" (Robert Palmer, Deep Blues.) Spoken clearly or roundabout, Zarathustra certainly is fascinatingly weird, however long and twitchy our ears may be.
The blues is a wide field to ramble over, but let's bend an ear to Robert Johnson (1911-1938): "King of the Delta Blues Singers", who "left behind a small legacy of recordings that are considered the emotional apex of the music itself." (Bogdanov - Woodstra - Erlewine, All Music Guide to the Blues.) Sometimes Johnson is searching, sometimes angry, sometimes running; and sometimes at the still center. If you don't know his haunting work, you might give a listen to ""Love in Vain":
And I followed her to the station
Walter Kaufmann introduces "The Drunken Song" thusly:
What does the deep midnight declare?
Now let's see how Nietzsche expresses this toward the end of "The Drunken Song"?
Slinging the blues
Let's circle back to Kathleen Higgins commenting on the above passage of Nietzsche's:
Robert Johnson and many of the other great bluesmen likely would have understood about Dionysian intoxication and mortal renewal. For even the deeps of pessimism are not a dead end, as Laurence Lampert discusses:
Bizet's great opera Carmen (1875) surely has thematic affinities for the blues, and it was not casually that Nietzsche came to prefer it over Wagner's grand operatic Twilight of the Idols, as Nietzsche redefined the latter's work. But circling back to the blues: Robert Johnson sings "Love in Vain" from deep feeling at the still center of the blues, over-full. Experience overflowing, even; yet would we give up such a moment? Absorbed, it may keep recurring to you. Try listening again, one thing twice —
When the train rolled up to the station
© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson