Grunge And The Delta Blues Essay

2280 words - 10 pages

Play a popular grunge song such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” next to a classic Delta blues song like “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” by Muddy Waters and disregard the lyrics and you will hear two types of music that seem to be polar opposites. Grunge has a harsh, loud, almost obnoxious sound with heavy distortion on the instruments and the lead singer is usually screaming into the microphone. The Delta Blues on the other hand has a softer more melodic folksy sound that uses basic instruments and the vocals are relaxed. At first glance, or listen rather, there seems to be nothing that these two genres have in common. Having been born and raised in the Seattle area I am well acquainted with ...view middle of the document...

This caused the music to be completely unaffected by white influence, but purely based on African American culture and traditions (Talley 230). The fact that the Delta had the highest population of African Americans and was the poorest region of America shows how the condition of African Americans in the lowest class of society is contingent in blues music (O’Connell 67). The blues emerged out of segregation and social deprivation and this gave the blues artists pride in themselves and their work for overcoming their circumstances (O’Connell 66). Marybeth Hamilton claimed, “The men and women who played and sang the blues were mostly poor, property-less, disreputable itinerants, many of them illiterate, many of them loners, many of them living on the edge” (O’Connell 67). This is the type of culture that the Delta blues was born out of, one of isolation and desperation, and the artists and their music reflected these circumstances.
On the other hand, Grunge came from a very similar culture. Grunge was born in the late 1980’s in our very own Seattle, Washington. At this time, the future was not bright for young Americans; financial aid had been substantially reduced for college, and almost every year from 1981-1992 the number of people below the poverty line increased (Talley 231). Michael Azerrad, the biographer for Nirvana, said, “They were the firs American generation to have little hope of doing better than their parents.” Many Americans of this era were isolated and hopeless (Talley 232). Paired with the somber mood of the era was the physical isolation of Seattle from the rest of America (Talley 232). As we well know here, Seattle is often gray and rainy. It was also extremely racially in-diverse with only 152,572 African Americans and 4.1 million whites living in Washington in 1990 (Talley 232). It was out of this hopeless, isolated culture of Caucasians in Seattle that Grunge music was born in the late eighties.
Isolation was a key factor in the development of both the Delta blues and grunge. In the Delta in the early twentieth century the African Americans faced terrible treatment due to Jim Crow laws and the plantation workers were especially subject to this abuse and separation. Then, in the late eighties in Seattle, the youth were cut off from the rest of the country and faced a bleak future. The cultures that both genres were born from were very similar and critical to the genre.
The next similarity between grunge and blues music is how both started as a regional music genre, but became nationally popular, and in doing so, lost the sincerity of the music. Blues started on plantations as field workers would sing “field hollers” as a way to communicate while working to get their work done as efficiently as possible and it served as cheap entertainment (Talley 229). Then, in the early twentieth century, technology was expanding rapidly, including recording technology, and this recording was used especially for blues music (Talley...

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