The sole origin of consciousness?
“Suffering,” Alice Walker wrote in “Meridian”, “is the sole origin of consciousness.” Suffering is also, traditionally, the origin of the blues. From the moment that Robert Johnson traded his soul to the devil, the blues have chronicled man’s suffering in a form that, like a wake, heals through mourning. P.K. Dwyer, in his most recent blues album, “Healed,” follows this traditional path as he sings of suffering, but in a unique way that moves beyond merely lamenting the hopelessness of a situation. Like Socrates, who taught by asking questions of his audience instead of lecturing, P.K.’s blues implore his listeners to examine situations such as love and temptation not merely with sorrow, but with insight and humor. It is this wry look at life’s myriad complexities that makes “Healed” a compelling listen.
Not blind to the evolving exigencies of the twenty-first century, P.K. deals with traditional and timeless topics like lost love and alcoholism, and then moves beyond mere lament to address current events, like the “Wal-Martization” of America and the predicaments of America’s oil-based economy. Best of all, he does so in a way that never lectures or whines, but instead inspires the listener to think about the world with hope and humor. Although, on the surface, some of P.K.’s songs seem simple, on further listen they turn out to be masterfully complex tales that reward repeated plays with a deeper understanding of life’s yings and yangs. Sorrow, it turns out, is not the opposite of joy, but the flip side of the same coin and, viewed as such, allows humor to spill into situations that might otherwise overwhelm.
The grace of P.K.’s music lies in its subtle humor. “Gypsy Blues” looks at rising gas prices, for example, noting that “pretty soon we’ll need a down payment on a gallon of gas.” “Mt. Baker Blues” finds a reason to be grateful for a policeman, not easy to do in a world that seems to be becoming more of a police state every day. “Fallen on Hard Times” inspires one to contemplate the increasing gap between rich and poor, but in a way that is hopeful, not angry. “Black Suit Blues” invokes P.K.’s personal perspective about the “rules” of being a blues musician, and “Crossroads Mall” accomplishes the seemingly impossible in paying homage to Robert Johnson, lamenting the encroachment of Wal-Mart, and taking the moral high ground against the devil without sounding sanctimonious about it.
The best blues albums, like many of life’s greatest pleasures, are simple things perfectly done. “Healed” achieves its elegance through simple arrangements – the album was basically recorded live in the studio – that let the complexity of P.K.’s guitar and harmonica shine without glaring. Don’t let this statement fool you into thinking that anything about P.K.’s music is simple; quite the contrary, in fact. Like any master, it is through making the complex seem simple that P.K. achieves his greatness, creating in each song a little masterpiece that tends to grow on the listener with each repeated play, bringing to the surface the sub-texts that inspire hope rather than despair, joy instead of sorrow. Suffering may be, as Alice Walker suggested, the sole origin of consciousness, but misery does not have to be the sole condition of a meaningful and well-lived existence. Don’t take my word for it, though. Listen to, and be, “Healed.”