I have recently discovered something about myself. I like the blues, but I have a certain threshold level beyond which I don’t want to hear any more old-timey walkin’ blues for a while. It’s somewhere between half an hour and one hour. After that, I need a day or two before I can appreciate great musicians like Leadbelly, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson. It is all just so similar, is all. You’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.
This gave me a few problems watching Queen Latifah’s masterful re-creation of the early songs of Bessie Smith, one of the best blues singers ever. However, she eventually moved to some music with a bit faster beat and more dramatic performances, so I was okay. In fact, it was interesting to see the music evolving into early jazz.
The movie itself is about as standard a biopic as you’ll ever see. Sometimes I despair about these musical legends and how similar their stories are. Couldn’t they work a little harder to be interesting? But no, it’s the same thing. Came from nothing, nineteen kids living under a cabbage leaf, nothing to eat but gravel and twigs. Then the big break. The gradual rise to stardom. Then … drugs! Booze! Dissolute living! Rehab, comeback … pretty boring. You know what I’d like to see? I’d like a biopic of Duke Ellington. Raised in a comfortable, educated upper middle class family in D.C. Piano lessons at age five. Steady rise to fame. Never got into drugs. I guess some would see that life story as boring. But they made a pretty good movie about Glenn Miller, and nothing very horrible happened to him on the way up … except that bit about going missing at the end, of course.