Your RDA of Irony

British Blues

British actor Hugh Laurie, best known for his role as the misanthropic drug-addicted Dr. House and the chief justification for Christian Science, will record an album of blues songs.

The traditional blues singer is a share cropper with syphilis.  Mr. Laurie does not quite fit that image.  At the very least, he did not major in cotton-growing at Cambridge.  Now, it is possible that British life can provide the destitution and degradation that inspires “the blues”.  The poverty and short, brutal lives of Welsh coal miners should have prompted lyrical self-pity.  Unfortunately, the Welsh became Methodists rather than alcoholics, and you don’t sing the blues in choral arrangements. 

The Scots almost developed the blues.  With their endemic poverty (a Scottish banquet is two courses of oatmeal) and their suicidal loyalty to the Stuarts, the Highlanders did have some very depressing ballads.   

Oh I have a sword, and you have some cannons.

So I’ll be in Scrapland before ye. 

And me and my true love will never meet again.

But she probably has starved in the meantime.

Mr. Laurie, judging from his surname, does have Scottish ancestry; but I imagine that his only experience with British brutality was the standard molestation at Eton.  Still, had he only been born some 75 years earlier, Laurie might well have found the classic conditions for the blues:  mud, frustration and death.  “It’s a long way to Tipperary, but if you find any of my body parts, please ship the casket there.”  Until the Quake, a shooting schedule in California is still preferable to one on the Somme. 

Nonetheless, there must have some event in Mr. Laurie’s life that gave him the depth and scars to feel the blues.  Was it when Harrow beat Eton at cricket?  “Sticky wicket” does have a sensual insinuation to it…

Oh you googly my wicket.  You leg-bye my stumps.  Oh you googly my wicket.  You pitched my batman and now I got no bails.   

In fact, here is a sneak preview of Mr. Laurie singing one of the greatest classics of British blues:

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

  1. Hal Gordon says:

    Eugene —

    “The Scots almost developed the blues”?

    May I offer a dissenting opinion? This from the 1930 classic, “In Search of Scotland,” by H.V. Morton: “Every one who numbers a real Highlander among his friends knows that he inherits a number of qualities that mark him off from ordinary men. He is quick to take offense and he is a fighter. He is as punctilious in matters of honor as an Italian nobleman. Personal loyalty is a tradition with him. So is whisky. He loves to arrange, often on the flimsiest pretext, occasions for convivial celebration, a relic perhaps of old times when men, separated by mountain and flood, would meet together and pledge themselves in strong drink.”

    Hoots, laddie!


    • Eugene Finerman says:


      Of course you may dissent. That’s because your side lost the English Civil War and the Jacobite Rebellions. Otherwise, I would be the Absolute Monarch here and forbid the treasonable act of disagreeing with me.

      Yes, the Scots love drinking and apparently they have done wonders with fermented peat. But what do you Highlanders sing after the fifth dram? You caterwaul the most melancholy dirges about hanged Scots and the imbecilic prince who led them to their death. If that ain’t the blues, what is?


  2. Kate says:

    uhhhh, Eugene, none of the traditional blues singers in my life and social circle are not, nor were they ever sharecroppers nor do/did any of them ever have syphilis. And they are all black, imagine that! Delta, Memphis, Chicago, some dead, most alive.

    That remark might have been appropriate in 1930s, not so much these days

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Well, Kate, if they are not sharecroppers with syphilis, they are not traditional. The advent of Penicillin certainly threatened the genre. Today, what would be the point of the St. James Infirmary: Restless Leg Syndrome? Still, be grateful for my satiric if anachronistic remarks: it might give your singing acquaintances a new reason for “the blues’.


  3. Kate says:


    Point well taken.

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