My Blue Colour

I was but a teenager when I met Robert Johnson for the first time, the man who sold his soul to the devil in order to learn to play the guitar. I was not a cheerful teenager, I used to sublimate my fear of the feminine sex through Johnson’s songs. He described them, the women, as evil and wicked beings, as witches. In Kind Hearted Woman Blues he sang:

She’s a kind-hearted woman, she studies evil all the time
You wells to kill me, as to have it on your mind

Or he described them as reassuring beings, with whom he took refuge from his own obsessions and sorrows. These obsessions and sorrows came in the form of a hunter from hell and Johnson had to run away from them:

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail
Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail

If today was Christmas eve, if today was Christmas eve
And tomorrow was Christmas day
If today was Christmas eve and tomorrow was Christmas day
All I would need is my little sweet rider
Just to pass the time away, to pass the time away

Both visions had a precise form in my head and occurred also in the literature I was reading: Pavese gave a similar vision of the woman, a woman who can save you, redeem you, but then kills you, wears you, exhausts you.
Johnson felt women as absent, hence the strong angry feeling towards them that made him write about violence. Then, repentant, he distanced himself from the anger, which became the devil or a hunter from hell. In Me and the Devil Blues this is quite clear:

Me and the Devil
was walkin’ side by side
Me and the Devil, ooh
was walkin’ side by side
And I’m goin’ to beat my woman
until I get satisfied
She say you don’t see why
that you will dog me ’round
spoken: Now, babe, you know you ain’t doin’ me
right, don’cha
She say you don’t see why, ooh
that you will dog me ’round
It must-a be that old evil spirit
so deep down in the ground
You may bury my body
down by the highway side
spoken: Baby, I don’t care where you bury my
body when I’m dead and gone
You may bury my body, ooh
down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit
can catch a Greyhound bus and ride

Anger towards a woman could also become anger towards god, with the same hate-long for relationship. He was blasphemous but just to attract god’s attention, like in If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day:

If I had possession
over judgment day
if I had possession
over judgment day
Lord, the little woman I’m lovin’ wouldn’t
have no right to pray

A black man in the times when Johnson lived, the beginning of the 20th Century in the southern slave States, was completely alone and isolated. Often he didn’t have a community to refer to, contrary to women, who used to attend religious groups.
In blues songs we don’t find common sorrow (to see something of the sort we have to wait until J. B. Lenoir) but only individual pain. At the time negroes were just numbers in a prison’s register or in a plantation’s account book.
For Afro-Americans the blues represented a direct link with mother Africa and in that music they could survive and find refuge.
Now, for me, blues is the same thing, as we aren’t but numbers in an oppressive economy. It represents my relationship with women, not yet balanced. It represents an imagined redemption of men and women who are not alone anymore and will knock down the walls that separate them.
Mind you, don’t think that my view is just political. Mainly it comes from a human need, that I and other people have deep inside, people for whom the colour blue is still important.
(translation by Silvia Pio and Leslie Mcbride Wile)