Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago

For my blog post, I chose to look at a predecessor and mentor of Muddy Waters’ in the delta-blues style of music, Robert Johnson. Specifically, his song “Sweet Home Chicago”. . Although not receiving the kind of success Muddy did in his lifetime (he did not sign with any important record companies, he only barely ever left Mississippi), Johnson is widely recognized as the father of delta-blues music, characterized by bottleneck guitar playing and mournful melodies and lyrics, firmly rooted in daily experiences. Most of his musical success occurred between 1936–37, just before Muddy started in the music business.
“Sweet Home Chicago” is one of Johnson’s most famous songs, despite the fact that its lyrics make very little sense. Musically and lyrically this song serves as a standard for the Blues genre, but under closer examination of its lyrics, I find a lot of the sentiments we were reading about in “The Southern Diaspara” to be underlying. The chorus repeated through out the song is as follows:
“But I'm cryin hey hey
baby don't you want to go
back to the land of California
to my sweet home Chicago”
The geographic ambiguousness I think is very telling about the commercialized sentiment we were talking about in the great migration: wanting to go home. Home, where things will be better. But in Robert Johnson’s case, Chicago was far from his home (he may have been there once), and instead of longing for the country like the song “Detroit City” we looked at, he’s longing for the city.
In trying to figure out the “land of California” bit, I found one lyrics interpreter who claimed Johnson was referring to a metaphorical California- a place of opportunities and riches. In contrast with “Detroit City” (here’s a refresher, where you have a white country musician, lyrically situated in the city, longing for simpler times in the country (pre the great migration, one would assume), Robert Johnson is an African American blues musician, longing for the city, and the opportunities for change it brings. While we had a lot of conversations in class about whether this sentiment for “home” was truly how people were feeling or something that was projected onto society, even within that all-encompassing and elusive “home”, different parts of America were looking for very different things.

Lyrics to "Sweet Home Chicago"

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