Credit: Mia Leahy

Blues for the Fifth Week Blues

You know it folks! Fifth Week Blues has rolled around again, and what better way to celebrate (lament?) its arrival with some Blues plucked straight from my playlist.

Silgo River Blues – John Fahey

Fifth-week in Trinity is a whole new ballpark to Michaelmas or Hilary. The weather is shockingly lovely, the college puffer has thankfully been exiled to underneath my bed, and I spend most of my days in the garden. John Fahey, an ‘American Primitivist’ guitarist, captures the outdoors like no one else. On Silgo River Blues, his fingerpicking meanders, eddies, and flows like the Silgo: gentle, bucolic, beautiful. 

And yet, despite this being one of the most beautiful compositions I have ever heard, there’s an underlying melancholy – it is a blues after all. Summer cannot last forever, and in a few weeks I won’t see my friends until October, when I’ll leave my lectures in the dark, cough up a lung from the cold, and listen to this song, cursing the fact I live on this little island off the coast of the Continent.

Ultra Marine Blues – Merzbow

I cannot describe this in words. Merzbow quite simply captures the sound my brain makes during a tutorial I blatantly have not prepared for.

Dropout Boogie – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Captain Beefheart is best remembered for 1969’s Trout Mask Replica, a profound piece of anti-music you either think is pure genius, or that you pretend to like to fit in with the music nerds. I’d list one of the several brilliant Blues numbers from that album, but it’s not on Spotify – and let’s face it, in today’s attention economy if a song takes more than one click to listen to, it might as well not exist. 

Dropout Boogie, from 1967’s Safe As Milk is an explosive blues number, featuring one of the meanest guitar tones I’ve heard on this side of The Stooges, and Beefheart snarling some slightly nonsensical story that seems to extol Confucian values. But when he starts chanting:

Drop out, drop out

Drop out, drop out

best believe, at this point in term, I’m strongly considering taking the Captain’s advice.

Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan

Though I find most of Dylan’s music best listened to when wearing a slightly undersized coat, shoving as much of your hands as you can fit into your pockets for warmth, Subterranean Homesick Blues is a fitting song for Trinity’s Fifth Week. On this song Dylan pretty much spits bars in a shockingly current piece of proto-rap from 1965, replete with hyperlinked images, an opening reference to codeine that fits right in with Three 6 Mafia’s Sippin’ On Some Syrup, or Future’s Codeine Crazy, and overall chaos and rhymes delivered at a speed that breaks the sound barrier. 

In particular, Subterranean Homesick Blues sought to bring back the spirit of 1950s protest rock – with a Beat generation cadence, amidst the whirlwind lyrics you can discern the discontent of protest:

Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose

Keep a clean nose, watch the plainclothes

You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows

In this way, Dylan reminds me of Oxford currently: amidst the cloisters, tutorials, and academic Disneyland, with Oxford Action For Palestine encampments now on the lawns of the Pitt Rivers and the Radcliffe Camera, we are shown glimpses of a world outside the shelter of academia poking through, waiting to be confronted.

Blue Motel Room – Joni Mitchell

Though Joni Mitchell has never made blues, the colour is something she returns to time and time again – whether it is her 1971 magnum opus ‘Blue’, the 8 songs she has written with ‘blue’ in their title, or the countless blue lyrics she has penned. As of late, a combination of things have made me blue, such as the impending doom of Prelims, my desolate love life, or the flat tyre I sustained on the bafflingly spiky bike path outside the Pitt Rivers. Especially the latter – as my fellow OX2 warriors will know, a bike is as imperative to survival in the ghetto (North Oxford) as my beating heart. Without my beloved set of wheels I have had to spend the last week sauntering down Banbury Road with Joni’s 1976 album Hejira for company, because I’m a drama queen and I refuse to not blow up any minor inconvenience in my life, hence this article. 

Hejira, named after the Arabic word for ‘departure or exodus’, was written during a series of sprawling road trips Mitchell took from 1975-76, running away from disillusionment, a cataclysmic series of lovers, and a crippling cocaine addiction. Look, I’m not saying having to walk 20 minutes is that devastating – but at the same time, Blue Motel Room is the sound of a woman finally admitting that she’s tired, and she wants to go home. The city of dreaming spires may be an academic fairytale of a university, but I should probably admit to myself that perhaps it’s time to return home.