Coffee Songs vs. Whiskey Songs

In my last post several weeks ago, I said that I would explore the subject of “coffee songs” vs. “whiskey songs” as it relates to playing a bar gig vs. a coffeehouse gig. Without really thinking it through, I thought it would make for an interesting post. After a couple of attempts at a draft, I soon realized that I was finding a very long-winded and overly analytical way of saying, “I think that some types of songs work better in bars than they do in coffeehouses.” Well, duh. So here is a much shorter exploration of the topic. What I think of as “whiskey songs” seem to come up through the blues, jazz and country traditions. What all these traditions have in common is the tendency to celebrate the euphoric pleasures of life and to also unflinchingly plunge the depths of despair & dysfunction. These styles of music can really ride the emotional roller coaster of the human experience. Good times, bad times. Somehow it just seems right to have a drink in hand for either eventuality, doesn’t it? “Coffee songs,” on the other hand, I tend to think of as going back to the 1930s with the topical folk songs of Woody Guthrie and the like. Labor songs, workers’ songs, fighting-for-your-rights songs were more emotionally restrained and more even-keel than blues, country or jazz. They had to be. How can you organize against the big boss man for your right to be paid a decent wage if you’re falling down drunk and moanin’ over your own inner demons all the time? Or if you’re out there falling in love and getting lost in romance? No, sir, you can’t. Standing on the picket line and busting the heads of scabs and getting your own head busted by goons requires clear focus! As every fan of the folksinger/troubadour tradition knows, Woody Guthrie begat Bob Dylan and so it’s no wonder that a young Bob Dylan’s earnest musical stance against all forms of injustice, hypocrisy and stupidity found fertile ground in the early 60s beatnik coffeehouse scene of Greenwich Village. To the dismay of many a politically-minded folk purist, that young Bob Dylan would very soon discover that he was really, really good at making “weed music” and he would go on to make some of the best, most poetic and spectacularly imaginative weed music ever made. note: there will be no future post from me on the ins-and-outs of weed music. 1) I lack the first-hand ‘expertise’ and 2) almost all styles of music have been influenced by pot in one way or another, for better or for worse.

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