A Blue’s Melody for the January Blues

Please note: This piece was also published in OnBeing.

Following the sparkling glimmer of a light-infused season, the month of January can sometimes feel as if a heavy, wet blanket of snow is descending upon us. It’s a time when the body can feel overindulged and earthbound, a time when we dispiritedly plod through the weight of winter days.

January Blues

Sliding from the high notes of the holidays to the low notes of mid-January, nature’s force ushers us unwittingly from the warm cheer of family and friends to a still and penetrating solitude. Even our music changes tune, as the festive good tidings of December songs give way to introspective, tranquilizing melodies that help carry us away from the sluggish, gray days of January.

As American pianist George Winston – whose instrumental music has been likened to “flakes of falling snow” – once said, “Every song I’ve ever heard, that has gone in and stayed in me, has always reminded me of a season. A picture and a place, maybe, but always a season.”

It might seem unfitting, then, to turn to the music of legendary blues icon Buddy Guy in the midst of a season known for plunging tired souls into the depths of “January blues.” But his song “Flesh & Bone” has done just the opposite, propelling my spirit onward and upward into a brighter sky of possibilities.

famous blues artists

Featuring rock & roll soul artist Van Morrison (an ATG favorite), Buddy Guy dedicated the song to the “King of Blues”, B.B. King, upon his passing last May – an apt choice for the hopeful message it offers:

It ain’t over the day you die
We all live on in the spirit by and by

With a poignant refrain that invites us to contemplate a life “more than” our fleshly existence – more than our human desires and temptations, frustrations and fears, tribulations and doubts – it simultaneously encourages us to transcend those very things; to “live higher”:

This life is more than flesh and bone
Find out now before you’re gone
When you go your spirit lives on
This life is more than flesh and bone

The message is a reflection of Guy’s religious upbringing: “‘My mamma used to say, ‘If you get slapped, turn the other cheek, so they can slap the other side,’’”, Guy recalls in an interview with the Rolling Stone. She ought to have been proud, then, when Guy took the high road after waking up one morning to an egged home. He explains: “‘[My neighbors] said, ‘A black man gets eggs thrown on his house, and he’s still plowing snow off everybody’s sidewalk, corner to corner?…we were the best of friends after that.’”

More than a religious ballad, however, “Flesh & Bone” also provides a welcome reminder of the importance of perspective – the perspective that we’re more than earthbound creatures of the here and now with long lists of “things to do.” During these cold days of January, days in which we feel so acutely our fleshly existence and so easily succumb to the instant gratification our flesh desires, we can find a more enduring kind of solace in embracing the perspective of a “higher” world of mystery and spirit that this song evokes.

Buddy Guy Flesh and Bone

So, perhaps it is fitting to turn to Buddy Guy after all. Considered the last of the blues legends, he is representative of a genre of music, which although has become rather marginalized in our culture, is known for eliciting heartfelt and soulful emotion – music that reminds us that this life is, indeed, more than flesh and bone.

Recalling what he told his producer while working on his 2015 album, Born to Play Guitar, which features the “Flesh & Bone” track, Guy says in a Billboard article: “Let’s play some funky blues like these older guys, the ones that taught me, and hopefully we can hit a note that will get people to pay attention.”

Well, he sure hit a note. And he certainly got my attention.

Listen to “Flesh & Bone” here and read the full lyrics below.

Daddy read the good book through and through
Said the Lord’s word is the only truth
It ain’t over the day you die
We all live on in the spirit by and by

This life is more than flesh and bone
Find out now before you’re gone
When you go your spirit lives on
This life is more than flesh and bone

Now I know my daddy was right
I read that good book and I’ve seen the light
Mama and daddy have passed and gone
They’re still with me ‘cause love lives on

This life is more than flesh and bone
Find out now before you’re gone
When you go your spirit lives on
This life is more than flesh and bone

The God I feed on is real as rain
More than words can ever explain
We’ll meet again some sweet day
Far beyond this world of pain

This life is more than flesh and bone
Find out now before you’re gone
When you go your spirit goes on
This life is more than flesh and bone

In keeping with the “Flesh & Bone” theme, check out our piece in Around the Table on “Bone Broth.”