Posts Tagged 'B.B. King'

Art to Burden

B.B. King In Concert - San Rafael, CA

B.B. King has been out on tour. He is almost 90 years old. I had the pleasure of working with B.B. on some shows back in the early ’90s. He’s really a great guy with an awesome sense for music. He’s also a ‘hard core’ old skool blues man.

The ‘grind’ of the road has been written about, but experienced by few. It really is a difficult life. I will spare you the gory details — plenty of places to read all about it online. Suffice to say it is really harsh physically, and more so mentally. Recently he had a fall in Chicago, which resulted in him having to cancel his next show in Fort Wayne, and then subsequent shows. He’s okay, and has intentions of resuming the tour.

Why?

Why does a 90 y.o. man want to be on tour? Does he? I worry that his people are continuing to prop him up and send him out on stage, not because he needs the money (he most certainly does not), but because they do. Or is it because he doesn’t know what else to do? Is his identity so wrapped up in being B.B. King that he can’t do anything else?

I don’t pretend to know him, but I have spent some time with him and know people in the close circle. He doesn’t need the money and doesn’t care about the adulation that much. The truth is some around him encourage him to stop touring. I believe B.B. wants to die on stage. That would be true to his hard core bluesman persona, and would in his mind be the right way to pay respects to the struggling artists who came before him. That’s not the half of it.

The rest is that he knows how many depend on him. I estimate there are roughly 300 people who pretty directly receive income from him and his operations. That doesn’t count all the peripheral monies made, nor the economic impact to all the small and medium sized towns where he plays, particularly the economy of the lower socioeconomic part of his demographic.

He truly feels the responsibility and doesn’t want to let people down. So he keeps doing it, show after show, town after town. The grind of a hard working man. And he will do it until he literally can’t anymore. That’s who he has defined himself as being. His identity with himself.

Dare I say the performances reveal that he is a shell of his former self, both in playing and singing. It’s still him — the essence of it is still there, and the audiences enjoy getting to hear a legend. But it is so far removed from the art, and even craft of it. It’s just the fulfillment of perceived obligations at this point. When he goes, people will admire him for this.

Far be it for me to tell B.B. what he should be doing with what little of his life remains. If he truly gets joy and purpose out of it, and it’s what he wants to do, that’s okay. I’m not sure if it’s dignified, but if he thinks it is, then that’s good enough for me. However, I assert he does it mainly out of obligation, which has become so much a part of his wiring he doesn’t seriously consider the alternatives. He is blind to it, though most around him — even casual observers — see it clearly.

We all tend to cling to the persona we believe we see in ourselves, usually far past the point of good sense and good (mental) health. What a waste this is as time passes. Yet it’s extremely difficult to separate the complex tapestry of what one is with respect to what one has invented.

So we keep singing the blues and propping ourselves up to go on.

B.B. — Whatever happens, you are a cool cat, and from what I experienced you treated everyone with respect. There will never be another like you.

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