There was an article in the Chicago Tribune over the weekend about how blues clubs in Chicago are struggling. That is, not so much the blues clubs in the white, tourist areas of Chicago, but the clubs on the mostly black West and South sides: “The official Chicago blues scene — a magnet for tourists from around the globe — prospers downtown and on the North Side, catering to a predominantly white audience in a homogenized, unabashedly commercial setting. The unofficial scene — drawing mostly locals and a few foreign cognoscenti — barely flickers on the South and West sides, attracting a mostly black, older crowd to more homespun, decidedly less profitable locales.” [emphasis supplied.]
The more I read this article I couldn’t help but think that what I was reading was analagous in certain respects to the modern yoga scene, especially when I read this:
“So what happens when an indigenous music . . . gets repackaged for sale . . . ? An art form starts to die.”
Much has been written about how yoga changed when it came West. I was in a workshop with Paul Grilley when he said that in order for yoga to be palatable for Western tastes the spirituality had to be stripped out of it. Sure there are many teachers who teach a classical or as I call it, an old-school style of yoga, but how filled are those classes compared to the ones where the teacher dazzles you with a one-armed handstand, kicks your ass, and sends you home with a two minute savasana and no meditation? From my own experience when I taught at a studio my “modern” vinyasa flow class had a lot more students in it than my classical vinyasa krama class where I usually had three or four or none at all.
Naming themselves after a Muddy Waters song, the Rolling Stones visited the South side of Chicago, home of the urban blues, to pay homage to Chess Records. That was the rock and roll version of going to India to see where it all started, to experience the undiluted roots of their music.
Times and tastes naturally change in both music and yoga. Even vintage country music has faded away to the sanitized pop version of what it is now. As the article points out the nature and purpose of the newer blues clubs is different from the old clubs. At best, the newer clubs are filled; at worst, the bands serve up an endless repetition of songs like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.” In those clubs where blues music is watered down and branded, no one expects the music to develop to the next level.
The newer clubs give the people what they want in order to fill the place whether it’s selling T shirts or having the bands play the same old tired songs. Just like the clubs, yoga studios give their students what they think they want in order to keep drawing them in — yogalates, yoga with weights, whatever it takes.
In comparing yoga and art, one of my students said that art is always difficult to describe or explain, but you know it when you find it. Great art, like yoga, has soul. Yoga has morphed and changed since it has come to the West and while nothing can stay the same, I wonder, like the musicians wondered in the Tribune article, what is lost when the infrastructure of the yoga music is shattered.
As one of the musicians said in the article, there will always be the tourist clubs that sell the blues “brand” but “you can’t look to the clubs and the club owners to pursue blues as a culture. It is to them purely a commodity, nothing more than a bottle of whiskey, and how much money you can make off of it.”
Not an ideal way for preserving an art form, whether it’s music or yoga.