Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blank And Blues: Slusk Blues

Cornelis Vreeswijk: Slusk Blues


Cornelis Vreeswijk was born in IJmuiden, The Netherlands, in 1937. After seeing most of their world bombed to pieces by the Nazis, his father decided to relocate the whole family to Sweden in 1949.

Inspired by Josh White and Leadbelly he started playing guitar, made his album debut in 1964, became an almost overnight success with his often raunchy and daring but always eloquent and thoughtful songs, and he remained one of the most famous and beloved performers in the country (and in the rest of Scandinavia) until his untimely death in 1987.

That's the short story, the long story is of course much more complicated. He wasn't only famous for his music, but also for his private life, as the tabloids tended to follow his every move. He was a notorious hell-raiser and womanizer, known for his hot temper and for never turning down a drink.

Some of his endevours have become the stuff of legend. Like how during one of his first tours in the late 1960s he gained 70 pounds in less than a year due to over-drinking and over-eating, how he punched lawyers who tried to get him to pay his taxes or how he chased two women he'd met in a bar out of his house with a knife after realising they were just a couple of dudes in drag.

The fact that during his last year he looked about 70 years old when in reality he hadn't even turned 50 yet is a testament to decades worth of indulgences.

He may have lived a hard life and written countless songs about hoboes, robbers, murderers, scam artists, drunkards and anything else that conventions deem unsophisticated, but he also penned some of the most beautiful and delicate love songs imaginable. Many of songs have become standards and have been covered by dozens if not hundreds of artists over the years.

Although Slusk Blues was one of his earliest songs (from his third album, 1965's Ballader Och Grimascher) when he hadn't quite built up the reputation he would eventually get, the song is clearly a comment to all those who deemed him unsophisticated and boorish. I'm trying to think of a good English translation of "slusk" and "slob" is the best I can come up with. It doesn't quite fit the bill, but imagine some sort of über-slob and you get the picture.

The whole song is him sarcastically comparing himself to the cultured elite ("I'm filthy pig/Fuck hygiene/How did you manage to get so clean?", "You drink wine for the pleasure/I like wine because it gets me drunk/People like me should me locked up") or simply describing himself as "I'm a slob/Born in a sink/Dad was a drunk/Mom was a whore".

But he concludes that he will probably outlive his snobby, uptight detractors anyway, and unlike his their lives will have been completely uneventful and devoid meaning. He was right about the second part.

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