Black Vistas

The Skybridge
Eugene Lang College
October 24th, 2007

This exhibit presents a selection of original blues lyrics written by Lang students as part of the course Black Vistas, also known as the Jazz & Culture class. The blues are considered a precursor of Jazz and an important form-within-a-form. The lyrics on display make reference to the historical and the new and provide the perfect complement to the visuals and recording selections of Robert Johnson that fill the space.

Blues Lyrics

from Black Vistas: the Visual and Material Culture of Jazz

a Cultural Studies and Media course

Black Vistas is a social history view of Jazz and African American performance. This course considers readings drawn from biography, fiction, African music, the literature of race and image, and folk culture. Classic recordings are analyzed for their artistic and technical merits. Rare film clips are studied for clues into the unique presentations of artists.

Class participants learn about the elements of Jazz: improvisation, swing, call and response, and group participation, among other ideas.

The twelve bar blues consists of three lines that are four bars, four counts of four, each. The first line presents an idea (A) and the second line repeats this thought (A), often with a slight variation. The third line (B) is a resolution or response to this original statement.

In 1937 Robert Johnson recorded Love in Vain, which was covered by the Rolling Stones over twenty years later, and sang:

When the train rolled up to the station, and I looked her in the eye (A)

When the train rolled up to the station, and I looked her in the eye (A)

Well, I felt lonesome, I was lonesome and I could not help but cry. (B)

Robert also recorded the moving Crossroad Blues, also interpreted at a later time by Eric Clapton.

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees

Asked the Lord above Have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please.

As an exercise, participants of the Jazz & Culture class wrote their own blues lyrics. Students were asked to stay close to the A, A, B form, within reason, and the exhibit consists of samples of their lyrics.

Special thanks to Simonetta Moro and her gallery class for their efforts.