David Grazian is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses on popular culture and urban nightlife.
The club is run-down and dimly lit. Onstage, a black singer croons and weeps of heartbreak, fighting back the tears. Wisps of smoke curl through the beam of a single spotlight illuminating the performer.
For any music lover, that image captures the essence of an authentic experience of the blues. In "Blue Chicago," David Grazian takes us inside the world of contemporary urban blues clubs to uncover how such images are manufactured and sold to music fans and audiences. Drawing on countless nights in dozens of blues clubs throughout Chicago, Grazian shows how this quest for authenticity has transformed the very shape of the blues experience. He explores the ways in which professional and amateur musicians, club owners, and city boosters define authenticity and dish it out to tourists and bar regulars. He also tracks the changing relations between race and the blues over the past several decades, including the increased frustrations of black musicians forced to slog through the same set of overplayed blues standards for mainly white audiences night after night. In the end, Grazian finds that authenticity lies in the eye of the beholder: a nocturnal fantasy to some, an essential way of life to others, and a frustrating burden to the rest.
From B.L.U.E.S. and the Checkerboard Lounge to the Chicago Blues Festival itself, Grazian's gritty and often sobering tour in "Blue Chicago" shows us not what the blues is all about, but why we care so much about that question.