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St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues
by Bessie Smith
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St. Louis Blues Lyrics

What was that line and what might it mean, anyway?

Full, legally copyrighted lyrics to Bessie Smith's "St. Louis Blues" are currently unavailable.

"I hate to see that evening sun go down / It makes me think I'm on my last go 'round"
Quick Thought

Bessie Smith starred in a short film called St. Louis Blues in 1929 that took this statement to an extreme.

Deep Thought

The film, sort of a proto-music video in which Bessie Smith sings the song and acts the part of a down-and-out woman at the behest of an abusive husband, was something of a sell-out move for Smith, who turned to movies when her recording career was flailing. St. Louis Blues features an intense performance from her, and concludes with her character basically beaten up and deserted, still pining after the man that did it to her. This line in the song similarly suggests a woman left alone on the streets and fearing a fate as extreme as death.

In a book about the blues and feminism, scholar Angela Davis derided the film for taking such lines too literally: "St. Louis Blues deserves criticism not only for its exploitation of racist stereotypes but for its violation of the spirit of the blues. Its direct translation of blues images into a visual and linear narrative violates blues discourse, which is always complicated, contextualized, and informed by that which is unspoken as well as by that which is named" (Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, 61).

In other words: what were these people thinking? To Davis, simple, elegant lines in a blues song can say a lot with just a little, expressing dignity and despair at the same time without compromising either sentiment. According to her analysis, women like the one left behind in the song sing the blues partially as a form of empowerment, not because they just accept negative or abusive treatment as their fate.

"St. Louis woman wears her diamond ring / Pulls a man around by her apron string"
Quick Thought

Bessie Smith don't want "No Scrubs."

Deep Thought

According to the 1990s hip-hop/R&B band TLC, "A scrub is a guy who thinks he's fly, and is also known as a buster. He is always talkin' about what he wants, and just sits on his broke ass." He is sort of like a male "Golddigger." In this instance, the singer's scrub-like boyfriend has found a "Rich Girl" to take care of him, and left his girlfriend behind with nothing but "Bills, Bills, Bills." Guess that's why they say "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

"He's got a heart like a rock cast in the sea"
Quick Thought

Q: What happens to a rock cast in the sea?

Deep Thought

A: It sinks. This is a beautiful metaphor that is sort of a spin-off from the more cliché "heart of stone" idea. It conjures up an image of a rock slowly sinking down into the darkness of the seawater and finally disappearing.

Next Page: Meaning
Previous Page: Intro

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